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CPS teachers get lesson plan to help students in Laquan video aftermath

Chicago Public Schools has provided guidance to teachers who wish to talk to students about the Laquan McDonald shooting — while reminding them not to show videos with graphic content in class. | Image taken from Chicago Police dashboard camera

What did you learn about Laquan McDonald today?

What would justice look like for Laquan and his family?

How do you think events like this can be prevented in the future?

Those are questions Chicago Public Schools drafted for its teachers to create a teachable moment around Tuesday’s release of a violent video showing the killing of 17-year-old McDonald, who was shot 16 times at close range by an on-duty Chicago Police officer more than a year ago.

The district released a six-page lesson plan Wednesday to schools, district spokeswoman Emily Bittner said, after teachers asked for guidance on how to deal with the situation that’s sparked protests around the city, and other districts who’ve experienced similar shocks suggested it. She said certified teachers on the district’s “civic engagement team” wrote it.

The plan reiterated CPS’ caveat against showing videos in any schools if the “contents are reported to be graphic,” and suggested a number of news stories and opinion pieces to consider.

Among the goals of the “sensitive” lesson: “Help students to examine the role that race, class, privilege and stereotyping plays not just in this incident, but in our society,” and “Avoid further perpetuation of the fear and hatred of law enforcement that these incidents encourage.”

“This lesson is designed to help guide a difficult conversation, if you choose to discuss the case in class,” it read. “CPS is not requiring a lesson on this topic but wants to ensure teachers feel comfortable and prepared.”

CTU Vice President Jesse Sharkey says the “tool kit” distributed to teachers was a good impulse, but poorly executed. | Sun-Times file photo

CPS chief education officer Janice Jackson also sent a letter home with students Tuesday afternoon, hours before the infamous video was released to the public. In it, she explained the purpose of the lesson plan and urged parents to encourage their children to seek help from school counselors.

Chicago Teachers Union vice president Jesse Sharkey applauded CPS for what he called the “right impulse” to use the video to teach, but called the actual plan “another example of political excuse-making” for laying out the city’s version of events.

“The question of why it took the city more than a year to release the video is unanswered,” said Sharkey, a former high school teacher, who said he’d have asked his students why it took the city so long.

“My more perceptive students would be asking about the proximity to the political campaign,” he said. “It’s not that it’s a problem with writing about it, for trying to teach about it. It’s the actual content of the lesson plan reads like it was written by CPS lawyers rather than educators.”

Sharkey also lamented schools’ reliance on counselors to complete special education paperwork and oversee testing, which doesn’t leave them with a lot of time to talk to upset children.

“Seventy-five percent of our elementary school counselors are used as case managers,” Sharkey said. “What it does is interfere with the ability of counselors to actually counsel.”