US teacher suspended after asking students to defend Ku Klux Klan

Concerned parent Damaris Dorsey speaks to Fox 6 in a screenshot.
Concerned parent Damaris Dorsey speaks to Fox 6 in a screenshot.PHOTO: FOX 6

MILWAUKEE, Wisconsin - A teacher in the US has been suspended after asking students to defend the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) white supremacist group in an essay.

The charter school teacher, who is African-American, emphasised in a letter to parents that the goal was to teach seventh-graders - children aged 12 to 13 - to write persuasively.

The predominantly African-American students in the Business and Economics Academy of Milwaukee (Beam) language arts class were asked to write a persuasive essay from the vantage point of a lawyer defending KKK members on trial.

The paper was to be written with the movie To Kill A Mockingbird - which the students had just watched in class - in mind.

To Kill A Mockingbird is a classic novel by Harper Lee which tells the story of a white lawyer in the American deep South who defends a black man accused of raping a white woman during the Great Depression.

"The goal of this paper is not to teach students the Klan was correct in its behaviour, but rather to teach the students how to write persuasively," the assignment letter read.

But the goal did not sit well with parents, who complained to the school board that their children were being made to grapple with topics they could not yet grasp.

"To even ask my child to write a paper like this - his mind, level of thinking, is not there yet. I don't teach him hate. So therefore, he does not know the in-depth of the Ku Klux Klan," concerned paretn Damaris Dorsey told Fox 6 news.

The school suspended the teacher and withdrew the assignment after parents complained, adding it believed there had been no malicious intent involved.

Beam says it specialises in teaching students and parents how to be financially accountable.

"These are young students, young children. This is not law class. If it was a Jewish child, they wouldn't give him an assignment to defend Hitler," said Tory Lowe, a community activist, to Fox 6.

Lowe said parents let him know about the assignment.

Both Lowe and Dorsey say the assignment seemed more fitting for older, high-school students.

On Monday (Dec 19) afternoon, the school issued a statement saying the assignment had been pulled. saying "We feel the choice of topic is inappropriate for a seventh-grade class."

Beam, like other charter schools, is supported by public money, but operates outside the local state school system. It is authorised by Milwaukee Public Schools, but has its own board of directors. The board decided to pull the assignment and suspendthe teacher while it reviews what happened.

Lowe said parents still planned to have a rally at the school and were calling for an open dialogue with school officials.

The incident comes amid fears over US race relations in the wake of the US election, and the emergence of the fringe "alt-right" group, which includes neo-Nazis, white supremacists and anti-Semites.