MOUNT PLEASANT, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) – The superintendent of the Mount Pleasant, N.Y. school district says that an op-ed cartoon on the death of George Floyd that caused controversy should not have been used as part of a high school teacher’s lesson plan.
An 11th grade social studies teacher at Westlake High School showed a cartoon, created by David Fitzsimmons of “The Arizona Star” as commentary on Floyd’s death.
The cartoon shows a progression – a slave trader, slave owner, KKK member, and a Jim Crow era cop all kneeling on the neck of a Black man. Then, there is an image of a modern day law enforcement officer doing the same thing as the man says, “I can’t breathe.”
The cartoon caused controversy in in Texas last month.
Some students and their parents complained the cartoon unfairly linked police to slavery and the KKK.
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“Our district strongly supports the opportunity for students to have informed discussion and debate, even over topics of controversy. We appreciate teachers who challenge students to develop their critical thinking skills and form sound arguments,” Superintendent of Schools Dr. Kurtis Kotes wrote in an email to parents. “However, my investigation of this incident concluded that the lesson materials should not have been used. The job of educators is to inspire and provoke thinking and learning, which sometimes occurs through the discussion of ideas that can be sometimes controversial. When the materials that convey the ideas are themselves controversial (as this political cartoon was, having already been in the national news), or are disrespectful to some, the focus and effectiveness of the lesson has been lost.”
In his email, Kotes included this explanation from the teacher:
I understand that some community members were angered by this cartoon, as I recognize that it can be seen as disrespectful to law enforcement. I apologize for this. That was absolutely not its intent. The objective of my lesson was to instruct the students that social, political and racial conflicts have been an enduring issue throughout American history, and given the task of exploring the topic further — all opinions were encouraged, and no viewpoint was urged upon the students. The cartoon has distracted from the goals of the lesson, and therefore should not have been used.
Kotes said the teacher would be discussing this with the students soon.
“We deeply regret that this incident generated,” Kotes wrote.
No mention was made of any disciplinary action.
The lesson plan also included a second cartoon, showing a cop saying, “Black lives matter,” and a man in a BLM t-shirt saying, “Cops lives matter.”
In August, the governor of Texas called for the firing of a teacher who used the Fitzsimmons cartoon in an 8th grade assignment. That district said the cartoon was “not” an approved part of the curriculum.
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