AURORA, Ill. (WLS) — Two west suburban high schools are under fire for a cotton lesson that is part of their units on slavery in American History classes.
At Neuqua Valley High School in Naperville last school year, the American History unit on slavery included a lesson on deseeding cotton. A student of color shared a photo of the material in that class, an activity that students called picking cotton.
Earlier this school year, parents learned the cotton lesson as part of a class at Waubonsie Valley High School in Aurora, despite previous discussions with staff and parents.
Neuqua Valley parent Jerritt Payton said he was part of the initial discussions last year. His father was a sharecropper who migrated to Chicago from the South.
“When this took place, again, I just didn’t see the learning, so it really hurts to hear that it took place again,” he said.
“The lesson didn’t dig into economic deprivation, it didn’t deal with the sociopolitical consequences of enslavement as an institution for Black people,” said Ayanna Brown, Neuqua Valley parent and professor of education and cultural studies.
Indian Prairie School District 204’s Superintendent shared a statement saying in part, “District 204 acknowledges that, in an attempt to provide authentic learning opportunities to help bring the standards to life, sometimes these attempts unintentionally cause our historically marginalized students and families to feel devalued or disenfranchised. We empathize with these concerns and are committed to fostering a safe and inclusive environment for all.”
“For it to happen a year later, that means there wasn’t a conversation that happened from the top down about curriculum instruction but I think there can be one, which is very exciting to me,” Brown said.
“We have to get this thing right, we’ve got to do what we can,” Payton said. “I want to see this country do better, I want to see my community do better.”
When asked if there was disciplinary action taken against any staff, the district’s spokeswoman said they did not comment on employee matters.
Full statement from Indian Prairie School District 204
District 204 embraces and values the diversity of our incredible community. We recognize that in order to inspire all students to achieve their greatest potential we must lead and engage in a collective commitment to equity.
In response to your request, Indian Prairie teachers teach to the standards established by the State of Illinois. There is no mandated lesson where students are asked to pick cotton. We acknowledge that in 2021, at one of our high schools, cotton balls were brought into classroom settings to help students visualize the value of cotton gin in the midst of the Industrial Revolution. The teacher did not have any students simulate picking cotton. After listening to parental concerns around this activity, we communicated that cotton balls should not be brought into the classrooms. However, in 2022, one classroom at a different high school brought cotton balls into the classroom during their AP US History course. Again, this teacher did not have any students simulate picking cotton. We have followed up with additional communications and activities to avoid this happening at any of our three high schools in the future..
Our curriculum is reviewed and audited with new materials added and outdated materials removed from the program. At a recent Board of Education meeting, a plan was shared to establish how our district will review all curriculum through a lens of student achievement, equity, and student engagement. District 204 acknowledges that, in an attempt to provide authentic learning opportunities to help bring the standards to life, sometimes these attempts unintentionally cause our historically marginalized students and families to feel devalued or disenfranchised. We empathize with these concerns and are committed to fostering a safe and inclusive environment for all. Our administration, teachers and community members are continuously collaborating to develop guidance and strategies to prevent any such harm.