FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. (WTVD) -- The parent of a Cumberland County Schools student is speaking out against a class assignment she says is inappropriate and racially insensitive.
The mother, Kalia Fitzgerald, said she was startled after her son at Westover Middle School was given homework asking students to emulate colonizers of the 17th and 18th centuries.
"'Mom, look what they're having me do. They're having me do this Christopher Columbus-style.' And I'm like, what? And he was like, 'oh yeah.' So then he showed me the assignment, and I'm like, sigh. He's a jokester but I could tell that it bothered him," Fitzgerald said.
The assignment is called "Build Your Own Colony."
The project asks middle-school students in Cumberland County Schools to create a colony like the ones in Colonial America by following the steps of creating a government and culture in the New World.
The project coincided with Columbus Day, but Fitzgerald argues there's a major blind spot.
"I was just like, wow, have they really thought about how this is going to affect the Black and Indigenous children that this colonization had on them?" she said. "And I did not want my son to participate in it because it's emotionally scarring."
Fitzgerald told ABC11 that she felt the assignment was written from a place of unconscious bias and leaves out the harmful effects colonization had on Black and Indigenous people.
She said she contacted her son's teacher to explain why she took issue with the assignment, and that he would not be participating.
"He basically said to me, you know, 'this is the assignment as it is. If you feel like you could teach this you could go ahead and put an application in to Cumberland County Schools. Or he can just do the assignment that you said he could do. And it really offended me," she said.
Fitzgerald suggested that Cumberland County Schools and officials should take cultural sensitivity classes, draw up an alternative assignment, and have a more culturally sensitive approach when designing school assignments related to race.
In response, the school district defended the assignment and said an option to complete an alternative assignment was offered.
"In Cumberland County Schools, we are mindful, respectful, and affirmative of all forms of diversity - this is the foundation of equity. We are a large school district (5th largest in NC) that serves a diverse community of nearly 50,000 students," the district said. "In addition, we are required by the North Carolina General Statutes to teach the North Carolina Standard Course of Study, and our curricula and resources, particularly in English Language Arts (ELA) and Social Studies, are constantly reviewed for both accuracy and inclusion. We actively look to provide instruction that allows students to see themselves in the curriculum, whether as authors, characters, or historical actors. State standards in Social Studies, adopted by the State Board of Education in compliance with legislative mandates, require this, and best practices in all disciplines show that when students feel connected to the material, they learn and retain that material better.
"Whenever a concern about a school assignment is brought to our attention, we take the opportunity to review the concern and respond appropriately based on our findings. After reviewing the assignment in question, we have determined that it aligns with state standards. In this particular case, the option to complete an alternative assignment was offered."