UPDATED August 24.
School officials in Wylie say they’ve pulled an assignment comparing police to slave traders and Klansmen after strong backlash from local parents and law enforcement, as well as a national police officers’ association.
“I cannot begin to tell you how abhorrent and disturbing this comparison is, but what is more disturbing is that no adult within your school thought better before sending this assignment to children,” wrote Joe Gamaldi, vice president of the National Fraternal Order of Police, in a letter sent to Wylie ISD Superintendent David Vinson on Wednesday.
The assignment given to Wylie junior high school students included a cartoon depicting police officers being compared to slave owners and members of the KKK, and asked students what the cartoon is “saying about U.S. history and the death of George Floyd.”
Wylie ISD parents shared their dismay on social media.
“As a parent to twins in this school in this class I’m speechless,” posted one parent. “So upset. Yet so proud of my kids for talking to me about it.”
“This is not the Wylie Way! This agenda needs to be halted immediately! I am out on my children being indoctrinated to this false narrative. Keep this division out of Texas,” posted another parent.
“I got an email from Cooper this morning saying that an alternative assignment would be given to the students of the parents who are uncomfortable with the original assignment,” another wrote. “This is the first time I have seen the cartoon, and there shouldn’t be an alternate assignment at all. The original should be pulled immediately. This is beyond unacceptable.”
For local police, the impact was both professional and personal.
“To say that we are disappointed in this material provided to students in Wylie ISD would be a massive understatement,” Richardson Police Officers’ Association posted on Facebook after the assignment became public. “Many of our members’ children attend school in Wylie ISD.”
Gamaldi’s letter added, “After one of the concerned parents reached out, you said you would ‘review’ the matter and apologized. Might I suggest pulling the assignment back immediately and issuing an apology to every family who had to view the material your teachers sent out.”
On Thursday, the district followed Gamaldi’s suggestion.
An apology posted by Wylie ISD on Facebook read in part:
“We are sorry for any hurt that may have been caused through a social studies lesson that included political cartoons that reflected negatively on law enforcement. … The assignment has been removed, and students will not be expected to complete it. We will continue to work with our staff to ensure content follows the state curriculum.”
However, according to another parent, an email from Wylie ISD said the assignment was part of Celebrate Freedom Week and does “align to the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills,” though it is not part of the district’s curriculum.
That email also said “teachers have identified another assignment for students who do not feel comfortable with the content” of the lesson comparing cops to the Klan. But a follow-up email to parents said the assignment “has been removed from our teachers’ Google classrooms.”
Many parents said they thought the teacher who assigned the offensive lesson should be removed.
So far, the district isn’t naming the person, believed to be an eighth grade social studies teacher at Cooper. An email to parents said “a team member shared the lesson/activity. However, the entire team decided to include the lesson/activity in the instruction.”
The assignment may have been triggered by more than the recent anti-police protests in the wake of Floyd’s death.
In June, a Wylie teacher resigned after being placed on leave for reportedly “liking” a racist tweet, and a former student went online to complain of what she described as pervasive racism in the school district. The district responded with an email to staff, parents and secondary students calling Floyd’s death “a reminder that as far as we’ve come as a country, we still have work to do to address the systemic racism that African-American citizens face daily. Our hearts are deeply troubled knowing that each day there are students and staff who walk through campus doors carrying experiences of injustice and inequity. We are listening to your stories and experiences attentively. Our priority is providing you with a safe platform for expression and a plan for change.”
Whether the controversial assignment and offensive cartoon were part of the district’s “plan for change,” the highly publicized community backlash was not.
“Still comfortable sending your child through the public school system?” asked James Ashby, a conservative grassroots leader in North Texas. “For every incident such as this that gets publicized, there are tens of thousands that don’t.”
How often incidents of inappropriately politicized instruction happen in Texas public schools is unknown. Parents often don’t see the schoolwork their students are assigned, and Texans who don’t have kids in public schools are even less likely to know what today’s students are being taught in the classroom.
As Gamaldi noted, engaging with the youth in our community “becomes increasingly difficult when adults who were hired to educate them engage in outright divisiveness.”