Black Spokane teens say they were subjected to ‘cotton-picking’ lesson in class

SPOKANE, Wash. – An investigation is underway at Sacajawea Middle School where a family says their children were the victims of racial discrimination.

Emzayia Feazell and Zyeshauwne Feazell say their teacher had them and their classmates pick cotton in a social studies class on May 3, 2021.

“I was shocked that a teacher would bring a box of cotton into a class and tell them to pick it clean so she could teach us how slaves were back then,” said Emzayia.

The 14 year-old twins say they were the only Black students in that class when the activity happened and that it left them feeling humiliated and confused.

On the day the incident happened, their mother Brandi Feazell spoke with Sacajawea’s Principal Assistant.

Brandi says he offered to “segregate” her daughters out of the class but she opted to pull her daughters out of Sacajawea instead. That was more than four weeks ago.

“They’re trying to be strong,” Brandi said. “They really are but you can see the pain and as a parent it hurts.”

Brandi believes more students may have been affected by this social studies class. She says in the weeks following that lesson, the school district has offered to put her daughters on a safety plan and has apologized to her. But, she’s calling for a public apology, as well as for her daughters’ social studies teacher and all administrators who failed to act to be disciplined, along with anti-racism training to be held throughout the district.

“They need some serious education for the teachers to understand how to deliver these educational tools to the children in a manner that is respectful,” Brandi said.

Since then, the Feazell family has reached out to TeamChild and ACLU-WA for assistance.

“Now [Spokane Public Schools] has an opportunity to step up to the plate and respond and the community is watching,” said Kendrick Washington, Youth Policy Counsel with ACLU-WA.

Spokane Public Schools released this statement to 4 News Now:

“Spokane Public Schools recently received a complaint regarding a classroom lesson on the Industrial Revolution at Sacajawea Middle School. Upon receiving the complaint, SPS promptly solicited a third-party investigator to fully understand the situation. We will share the investigation’s findings as soon as they are available. SPS is committed to transparency, as well as making sure all our students, families, and staff feel supported and heard.”

The district released a second statement upon 4 News Now’s publishing of the story:

“The students were learning about the industrial revolution and the Cotton Gin was discussed. We take all complaints very seriously and are committed to investigating them fully. There are conflicting reports to this incident. Once the third party investigation is completed, we look forward to coming back to share the outcomes.”