A fifth grade teacher in South Carolina has been placed on administrative leave after asking her students to provide a justification for the actions of the Ku Klux Klan.
Tremain Cooper, an uncle of one of the students who received the assignment, identified the teacher on Facebook as Kerri Roberts, who gave the assignment at Oak Pointe Elementary School. Cooper posted a picture of the assignment and said it brought his 10-year-old nephew to tears.
"HOW CAN SHE ASK A 5TH GRADER TO JUSTIFY THE ACTIONS OF THE KKK???" Cooper wrote.
The original post appears to have been taken down. Below is a screengrab of the assignment:
The assignment also asks students to identify the KKK's "Purpose and Motivation" and "Effects on Opportunities of African Americans."
"I felt bad for my nephew because he was emotional," Cooper said to NBC Charlotte. "He had become upset because he thought he may get in trouble because he wasn't able to complete his assignment."
He called the incident "heartbreaking" for his family but told NBC Charlotte that he hoped the Facebook post would "bring attention to the larger issue."
"I believe the conversation needs to be elevated," he explained to the outlet. "I want the conversation to be centered around including more Black male and female teachers in the classroom."
Oak Pointe is a part of Lexington & Richland County School District Five. Katrina Goggins, a spokeswoman for the district, said in a statement to The New York Times, "South Carolina standards for fifth grade require lessons on Reconstruction and discriminatory groups, including the KKK. We must teach the standard, but we are taking steps to ensure this particular assignment will never be used again in District Five schools."
Goggins confirmed to The Times that Roberts had been placed on leave but did not specify whether it was paid or not, the publication noted.
The South Carolina Department of Education website provides standards for students based on grade level and subject. Fifth grade social studies are asked to "demonstrate an understanding of Reconstruction and its impact on the United States."
"Explain the purpose and motivations of subversive groups during Reconstruction and their rise to power after the withdrawal of federal troops from the South," the guidelines state.
The outline also specifies what is and is not essential for students to know. For what is essential, the standards mandate:
"During the Reconstruction period several discriminatory groups developed in order to intimidate the freedmen. The most infamous of these was the Ku Klux Klan (KKK). Originally the KKK was a social organization of ex-Confederate soldiers, but it soon grew into a terrorist group. The goal of the KKK was to use violence, intimidation, and voter fraud to keep African Americans from exercising their rights under the thirteenth, fourteenth, and fifteenth amendments so that whites could regain control of state governments."
It does not suggest students need to rationalize the actions of the KKK. In fact, the guidelines for what is not essential state:
"Students do not need to know details about the origins of the Klan and other groups such as the Knights of the White Camellia, or details about their methods of intimidation. Although students do not need to memorize a definition of terrorism, they should understand that terrorism is a term used to describe violence or other harmful acts committed or threatened against citizens by groups of persons for political or ideological goals."
The Facebook post from a student's uncle received nearly 300 comments and was shared over 500 times. It also generated mixed responses to the assignment. Some people agreed that it was inappropriate and called for Roberts' termination:
"This is crazy she needs to be terminated"
"Teacher teaching hate this needs to be stopped"
"They are to (sic) young to be taught this"
"What in the world......"
One commenter identified herself as a mother whose children used to attend Oak Pointe and said, "we had a race issue with this school before."
One man suggested that the assignment was meant to foster critical thinking skills.
"Coming from a family who's parents grew up in Charleston, SC during the Civil Rights movement they've (more so my father than my mother) always presented me with questions like these to prepare me for the world as a African American man living in America even in elementary school," he wrote, in part.
Cooper, the student's uncle who made the post, responded, "There has to be better ways than this assignment. This assignment didn't accomplish that."
Another man wrote, "Y'all are f*cking stupid. She's trying to reach your kids how to get the bigger picture not justifying the actions of the kkk. She's asking that if you were there, in that time, as a member of the kkk, what justifies your actions toward African Americans. And how regardless of the situation it was wrong."
A user responded, "I'm just wondering .. what should some of the children's responses be? If you were that age what would your response be? The issue is there is no justification for what that party did to African Americans so what could these kids possibly come up with? Do you feel like it the teacher is saying there is some form of justification to their actions? #healthydiscussionplease."
Irmo, S.C., where Oak Pointe is located, is located just outside of Columbia. Its population is about 64 percent white, 27.5 percent Black, 5.5 percent Latino, 1.8 percent two or more races, 1.6 percent Asian, and less than one percent American Indian as well as Native Hawaiian.
Questions asking how comfortable students are around Blacks, Muslims, gays and other groups sparked a debate on how to teach about racism in schools — if at all.
Roberts is not the first teacher to be penalized for a racial school assignment. Earlier this year a Florida teacher was fired after giving her middle school students an assignment asking how they would feel around certain racial, religious and other groups of people.
Questions ask students to rate 1 to 4 how comfortable they are in certain situations, with 1 being "Not Comfortable at All" and 4 being "Completely Comfortable."
Scenarios listed include:
A group of young Black men are walking toward you on the street.
A fellow RA is paraplegic.
Your new suitemates are Mexican.
Your women studies instructor is a Muslim woman who wears a headscarf and full length robe.
The young man sitting next to you on the airplane is Arab.
A friend invites you to go to a gay bar.
A homeless man approaches you and asks for change.
Your family buys a home in a predominantly Black neighborhood.