Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and the National Fraternal Order of Police are denouncing a social studies assignment that included political cartoons depicting the treatment of Black people in American history.
One cartoon, which was used at Cooper Junior High School in Wylie, Texas, in mid-August, sparked outrage on social media, with critics saying it compared police to the Ku Klux Klan.
Some parents in the Wylie Independent School District just north of Dallas also complained about the assignment, which was posted online by an unidentified eighth-grade teacher.
One of the cartoons depicts five scenes of African American men lying on the ground with their hands shackled or tied behind their back, first with a White slave trader’s knee on their neck, then a slave owner in the same position, a hooded Ku Klux Klan member, a sheriff from the Jim Crow era and then what appears to be a rendering of former Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin with his knee on George Floyd’s neck.
Throughout the scenes, the Black man says he can’t breathe.
The National Fraternal Order of Police sent a letter to Wylie ISD Superintendent David Vinson on August 19 denouncing the assignment, saying it compared police officers to slave owners and the KKK. It asked the district to withdraw the assignment and issue an apology to parents.
“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, the group’s vice president.
Abbott called for the teacher who gave the assignment to be fired and asked for an investigation by the Texas Education Agency.
“A teacher in a Texas public school comparing police officers to the KKK is beyond unacceptable,” the governor tweeted. “It’s the opposite of what must be taught.”
The written instructions for the assignment included a discussion about the First Amendment giving Americans the right to freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of the press and the right to peaceably assemble, and noted some of the violent protests that have taken place across the US over the summer.
“In the midst of the protests following George Floyd’s death, some have criticized protesters for creating chaos, others say the violence is instigated by outside extremist groups, and many see police initiating violence at the protests (NY Times),” the assignment read.
It asked students to use their prior knowledge and online research to describe the role of protest in a democracy and asked them if protests could “lead to real change in America’s treatment of Black and brown people.”
It also asked what the cartoon said about US history and the death of Floyd.
CNN obtained screenshots of the assignment from a parent of an eighth-grade student at the school, although that parent’s child did not receive the assignment. The parent said they got the screenshots from another family at the school, and did not want their name used for fear of retribution.
Immediately following the outcry, the Wylie Independent School District issued a statement saying that the cartoons “are not part of the district’s curriculum resources or documents.”
“We are sorry for any hurt that may have been caused through this lesson. The assignment has been removed, and students will not be expected to complete it,” the statement said.
The district did not identify the teacher, citing privacy laws.
“We don’t condone the use of these divisive images and are addressing the issue to prevent this from happening again,” the statement said, adding that the district is complying “with the Governor and the Texas Education Agency to investigate this matter as we work together to rebuild trust in the community.”
The Texas Education Agency confirmed to CNN that it is investigating the assignment.
A source close to the investigation told CNN that the assignment was used by more than one teacher as part of instruction for social studies in the eighth grade. The source did not want to be named because they were not authorized to speak about the situation.
People commenting on social media felt the cartoon was too much for eighth graders to process, and called the teacher irresponsible for using it in an assignment. Others said it reflected what is seen in the news daily.
The cartoon, by syndicated editorial cartoonist David Fitzsimmons of the Arizona Daily Star, was originally published on May 31.
The National Coalition Against Censorship protested the district’s decision to remove the assignment from the school’s website. The coalition said the action creates “a dangerous precedent, putting teachers on notice that they cannot present any material that might be offensive to someone in the community.”
“Finally, we urge you to reaffirm your obligation to present students with views from across the political spectrum and to establish procedures that guarantee teachers can operate free from the fear of political censorship,” the group said in a statement August 26.
In an opinion article on Tucson.com, Fitzsimmons wrote that some mischaracterized his cartoon.
“I’m impressed the National Fraternal Order of Police is directing its fury at an illustration revealing how our present horrors are mere echoes of our cruel past,” he said.
“Perhaps it requires too much moral courage, or honest clear-eyed reflection, for the National Fraternal Order of Police to funnel their fury at the few racist police officers who disgrace their oath and their badges by disproportionately murdering African Americans.”
CNN’s Ashley Killough reported from Dallas with Alanne Orjoux writing in Atlanta