A Texas high school has come under fire this week for including Kyle Rittenhouse, the 17-year-old suspected of fatally shooting two people at Wisconsin protests last month, in a writing project on heroes of the modern age.
The project, assigned to seniors at the WT White High School in Dallas on Tuesday, asked students to write a half-page biography on one of six people. The list included 1960s civil rights icon Malcolm X, anti-colonialist Mahatma Gandhi, Latino American labour leader Caesar Chavez, and George Floyd, the Minneapolis man whose police custody death in late May sparked a wave of global protests against police brutality and racial injustice.
The remaining two names were Rittenhouse and one of the two protesters he is accused of killing, Joseph Rosenbaum.
The second part of the assignment asked students to write a page-long essay on which of these six people best demonstrates the “concept of a hero”.
The writing assignment quickly stoked outrage among parents and relatives of the students.
Kristian Hernandez, whose younger brother attends WT White High School told KXAS that the “juxtaposition of George Floyd's name with Kyle's name was just astounding”.
"The value of Black lives are not up for debate, and that's what it felt like this was sort of getting at — by way of the names that were included”, Hernandez said.
In a statement provided to The Independent, a spokesperson for Dallas Independent School District said the writing assignment had been brought to the district’s attention and removed from Google classroom.
“Understandably, this caused some concern for the impacted students, and we apologise. Campus administration immediately removed the unapproved content and students are not required to complete that assignment”, the spokesperson said. “Racial equity is a top priority in Dallas ISD, and we remain committed to providing a robust teaching environment where all students can learn. It is important that we continue to be culturally sensitive to our diverse populations and provide a space of respect and value.”
The district said it is investigating the matter and declined to comment further.
District data shows that 81% of students at WT White High School in Dallas are Hispanic, and about 10% are Black.
Rittenhouse has been charged with killing two people and injuring a third during protests that erupted in Kenosha, Wisconsin last month after a white police officer shot Jacob Blake, a Black man, seven times in the back as he was walking away from officers.
Rittenhouse was arrested shortly after the 25 August shootings and taken into custody on suspicion of first-degree intentional homicide. He had travelled from Illinois to Wisconsin armed with an AR-15 on the pretext of protecting businesses.
If convicted, he could face a life sentence in prison. He is currently awaiting extradition to Wisconsin.