A cartoon depiction of a police officer which tacitly compared him to a member of the Ku Klux Klan and slave owners was distributed as part of an assignment given by 8th grade social studies teachers in Wylie ISD, a school district primarily in Collin County northeast of Dallas.
The school district removed the assignment today.
The graphic came to the attention of the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP), who then sent a letter to the school district explaining its concerns, asking for an apology, and for the assignment to be pulled.
“We are willing to sit down with anyone and have a fact-based conversation about our profession, but divisiveness like your teachers showed does nothing to move that conversation forward,” Joe Gamaldi, National Vice-President of the Fraternal Order of Police stated in the letter.
Set up in the style of a comic, the depiction shows frame by frame a white character with his knee on the neck of a black man. In the first frame the white man is shown as a slave trader, then a Southern slave owner, followed by a member of the KKK. The last frame appears to be a depiction of the George Floyd killing in Minneapolis.
Wylie ISD issued a statement acknowledging that the cartoon was part of an 8th grade social studies assignment. “These political cartoons portrayed in this lesson are not part of the district’s curriculum resources or documents. The assignment has been removed, and students will not be expected to complete it.”
“We value our relationship with our police,” Ian Halperin, Executive Director of Communications and Community Relations for Wylie ISD told The Texan. “We reached out to the Fraternal Order of Police this morning.”
Halperin clarified that the district had initially offered an alternative to those families who didn’t want to complete the assignment, but it later pulled the assignment completely.
He added that the original nature of the assignment was “to allow our students to examine the Bill of Rights and to determine if the rights detailed in the document are still as important or impactful today. The teachers wanted to provide the students with current events to analyze the Bill of Rights.”
Lindsay and Ian Wilkinson are parents of a 2nd grader in Wylie ISD and are very concerned about the cartoon depiction of police officers.
“This makes kids afraid of police officers, and that is not something we need,” Mrs. Wilkinson told The Texan.
“I don’t recall a time when I was this angry or offended. I don’t believe this is a healthy way to address the issue that we are painfully aware of,” Mr. Wilkinson, who serves as a deputy for the Choctaw County Sheriff’s Department in Oklahoma, said. “We are not, as a profession, in the business of hurting people. We get the call on the worst day of someone’s life. We try to help put people’s lives back together.”
Kristyn Senters, who has an 8th grade son in Wylie ISD, supported the assignment. Her son chose to use the cartoon in his explanation of why the right to protest is important and still relevant in helping to change issues in society today.
While she understands how some felt the depiction of police officers was harsh and negative, she wants people to focus on both persons depicted in the picture.
“Two people are portrayed. There is also a black man who is a victim on the ground. For me and the reality I live in, it is a harsh and hurtful truth. But that is not everyone’s reality,” Senters told The Texan.
Senters said she didn’t see the depiction as necessarily comparing the police to slave owners and members of the KKK, but as an evolution of oppression from slavery to the Jim Crow era to the present.
“Let me be clear, this is a small fraction of police officers,” Senters added.
She was disappointed but not surprised that the school district pulled the assignment, and thinks it was a disservice to the students.
“I think the social studies teachers should have sent something out beforehand to better prepare parents. Assigning this during the first week of school may have been too shocking,” she said.
Update: This piece has been updated to include comments from Kristyn Senters.
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Kim Roberts is a reporter for the Texan in the DFW metroplex area where she has lived for over twenty years. She has a Juris Doctor from Baylor University Law School and a Bachelor's in government from Angelo State University. In her free time, Kim home schools her daughter and coaches high school extemporaneous speaking and apologetics. She has been happily married to her husband for 23 years, has three wonderful children, and two dogs.