Gov. Greg Abbott has called for a Wylie ISD teacher to be fired after an assignment was given to students that included a political cartoon comparing police officers to slave owners and Ku Klux Klan members.
The assignment, which school officials said was not by authorized the district, showed a five-panel cartoon that started with a slave ship officer with his knee on a Black man’s neck and ended with a police officer with his knee on a Black man’s neck while he said, “I can’t breathe.”
Abbott tweeted Sunday that a teacher comparing police officers to the KKK is “beyond unacceptable. It’s the opposite of what must be taught. The teacher should be fired. I’m asking the Texas Education Agency to investigate and take action.”
Joe Gamaldi, vice president of the National Fraternal Order of Police, sent a letter to Wylie ISD Superintendent David Vinson saying that the assignment was “abhorrent and disturbing.” The district later issued an apology, Gamaldi said.
Wylie Independent School District spokesperson Ian Halperin told the Star-Telegram on Thursday that the assignment was given to Cooper Junior High eighth-grade social studies students as part of Celebrate Freedom Week, where students learned about the Bill of Rights and the Declaration of Independence.
In an email dated Aug. 20, Cooper Junior High Principal Shawn Miller told parents that the assignment aligned with the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills standards. The assignment was to determine if the rights detailed in the Bill of Rights — including the First Amendment rights of protest and free speech — are still as important or impactful now.
Miller’s email also indicated more than one teacher was involved in the assignment. School district officials haven’t publicly identified the teachers.
“The teachers wanted to provide the students with current events to analyze the Bill of Rights,” Miller wrote.
Miller added that the district holds law enforcement in the highest regard.
In a statement given to the Star-Telegram on Monday, Wylie ISD officials said they understand Abbott’s concerns about use of the unapproved political cartoon and will address the issue to prevent it from happening again.
“Wylie ISD will comply with the Governor and the Texas Education Agency to investigate this matter as we work together to rebuild trust in the community.,” the statement said.
The TEA did not immediately respond to an interview request.
No teachers’ names were released, but the district has an ongoing investigation. After social media backlash and parental concern, the assignment was taken down.
Alisha Whitfield, whose son was among the eighth-graders at Cooper Junior High given the online assignment, said she saw the assignment as a way to spark discussion about the First Amendment, freedom of speech and the right to protest.
Whitfield said while she respects law enforcement, it’s more important to have those discussions following Black Lives Matters protests and the death of George Floyd.
While the five-panel cartoon is getting attention, Whitfield said the assignment included two other cartoons students could analyze, including one that features a man rejecting wearing a face covering during the coronavirus pandemic while saying, “I don’t have to wear a mask. I am a free American. I can do what I want.”
Then students had essay questions to answer:
1. What role does protest play in democracy?
2. Does protest lead to real change in a society/community?
3. Could the protests lead to real change in America’s treatment of Black and brown people?
4. What is cartoon #1 saying about U.S. history and the death of George Floyd?
Wylie resident Amber Jennings told the Star-Telegram on Thursday that teachers shouldn’t be putting this material out, especially not to 13- or 14-year-old students.
“Don’t indoctrinate our children to think this way,” Jennings said.
Jennings doesn’t blame Wylie ISD — instead she blames the teacher who gave the assignment, she said.
Whitfield said Abbott may not have gotten adequate information about the assignment and that the situation has been blown out of proportion. She also hopes no one is fired.
“It’s important for children to learn that they do have that freedom of speech, and I don’t know of a better place for them to learn it and a safer environment than when they’re in school,” she said.
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