Sun Prairie superintendent responds to families’ requests after controversial assignment

Published: Feb. 8, 2021 at 12:01 PM CST
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SUN PRAIRIE, Wis. (WMTV) - The Sun Prairie Area School District will not be firing an assistant superintendent after an open letter was sent to the superintendent demanding her removal after a controversial assignment.

The assignment was given on Feb. 1 to sixth-grade social studies students at Patrick Marsh Middle School asking how they would punish a slave based on Hammurabi’s Code, a set of laws in ancient Meopotamia.

The assignment created backlash in the school district with one family obtaining an attorney, and an open letter was sent to Superintendent Brad Saron on Friday.

Question on assignment asking students how they would punish a slave based on Hammurabi's Code.
Question on assignment asking students how they would punish a slave based on Hammurabi's Code.

The letter had several requests, including the termination of the Assistant Superintendent for Teaching, Learning, and Equity Stephanie Leonard-Witte.

On Monday, Saron said he would not fire her saying she “continues to be a champion for the work of increasing racial equity, and eliminating disparities for Black and Brown students.”

Saron also repeated the assignment caused harm to students, families, staff, and the community, especially for those in communities of color.

“The incident at Patrick Marsh is not indicative of the commitments of this school district or what we are passionately working to become as an organization,” says Saron. “It was a direct result of people working outside the protocols we’ve established and outside our expectations of our staff.”

Following the assignment, the school district placed a “small group” of teachers who taught the lesson on administrative leave while the district investigates the incident.

The open letter on Friday was written by Montie Bowie and Dan Hawk, who say at least 20 parents are calling the assignment as “the straw that broke the camel’s back.”

The group is also asking for the school district to create a formal equity department, consult with a third-party to change current practices on obtaining more people of color that aligns with the demographics of the student population, provide spaces for Black and Brown staff to thrive, work towards all buildings having one or more Black or Brown staff in leadership roles, and evaluate anti-racist teacher training.

Saron encouraged the families to watch Monday’s school board meeting for more information on how the district is responding to the incident.

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