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Students question handling of Black History Month lesson at Creighton Middle School

Student: "There was a knot in my stomach."
Creighton Middle School in Lakewood
Posted at 11:15 PM, Feb 05, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-11 12:55:37-05

LAKEWOOD, Colo. — Several parents are up in arms about a Black History Month lesson they say was handled inappropriately.

The lesson, in a gifted and talented 8th grade Social Studies class at Creighton Middle School, focused on slavery.

"It made me nauseous," one student said. "There was a knot in my stomach."

That student, who asked to be called Kaye, said the instructor told her class the lesson was a serious matter. But Kaye said some students didn't take it seriously.

"One was joking that slaves couldn't get up to go to the bathroom and had to urinate on themselves," during their forced trip across the Atlantic, Kaye explained.

"He said that was cool and was then corrected in chat," she said, adding the student went on to say, "give them a TV and they'll be fine."

"That was very inappropriate," Kaye said.

Kaye said the the instructor allowed students to joke about it and laughed herself on occasion.

"In no situation is it okay to be making jokes or laughing when talking about slavery," Kaye said.

Kaye and a classmate, both students of color, wrote a note to the teacher expressing their concerns.

They described how she had students lie on the floor to simulate the Atlantic crossing and then had them clean cotton, so they could empathize with what slaves went through.

Preparing Cotton for the gin on Smith's Plantation
Preparing Cotton for the gin on Smith's Plantation

"That 'sugar-coated' a very serious and horrifying event in American history," Kaye said.

"She used the phrase, 'my little cotton pickers,' it's time to stop what your doing and move on with the lesson," Kaye added.

"The lesson was handled tactlessly," said Kaye's mom, Amanda. "My daughter said it was disgusting."

Amanda said there is a lot of diversity at Creighton Middle School, "but the gifted and talented program is less diverse."

She shared her daughter's letter with a close friend, Rebecca Dutcher, who is like an aunt to Kaye.

"I was horrifed, but I didn't know what to do about it," Dutcher said.

She believes the instructor should have treated the slavery lesson as seriously as one dealing with the Holocaust.

"I can't see a teacher doing a simulation of the train cars, or saying 'my little campers' in reference to a concentration camp," she said.

Dutcher shared Kaye's note with an African-American friend who posted it on Facebook, where it drew responses across district lines.

"It makes me wonder if she ran that lesson by a person of color," the friend, Danette Hollowell said. "The more I thought about it, the more upset I got, because the [two girls] were acting more mature than the teacher."

The teacher replied to Kaye and her friend's note, saying she was "deeply sorry this was hurtful to your feelings as this was NEVER my intent."

She added she reads from Stamped From the Beginning and White Fragility to make sure to try and build on her empathy as a white person in using her privilege to help those of color.

She also said she did correct the offending students behavior, saying "this was not meant to be funny," multiple times and asked if the girls didn't hear her.

"Sometimes we only hear what we want to hear, but again, if I have offended you, I am deeply sorry," she wrote.

Kaye said the instructor "cherry-picked" what to respond to.

She said the teacher didn't address the "my little cotton-pickers" comment.

She apologized for how she made us feel and not for her behavior," Kaye said.

Kaye said she wants the teacher to change the way she conducts the lesson so other students don't have to experience what she and her friend did.

Dutcher said, "If somebody brings that to your attention, in my opinion, the correct response would be...let's figure out how to correct this."

A spokesperson for the school district responded to another request for comment about the lesson and allegations on Thursday, Feb. 11.

“Creighton Middle School and the District value the outreach from these students, which has uplifted the need to look more deeply at lesson facilitation, especially covering culturally sensitive topics, and where it may not have kept pace with contemporary thinking,” said Jeffco Public Schools spokesperson Cameron Bell. “School leadership, the two students, and their families have had conversations and have agreed to work together to move forward.”

“The entire Creighton staff community has begun and is committed to this work through professional development, and in collaboration with our student engagement and equity and diversity team, curriculum and instruction, and with restorative practices staff,” Bell added.