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Illinois School Under Fire for Using Black Faces to Represent ‘Out of Control’ and White Faces to Portray ‘Ready to Learn’ on Feelings Chart

Parents of students attending an Illinois public school were outraged to learn that several teachers used a feelings chart described as racially biased to promote emotional awareness during virtual learning.

Alonzo Massey, a father of a first grade boy at Spaulding School in the Chicago suburb of Gurnee, Illinois, was shocked when he saw a chart included in his son’s back-to-school materials.

A feelings chart designed to help children recognize various socio-emotional zones used white faces to depict “ready to learn” and “sad,” but Black faces to portray “losing control” and “out of control.”

The problematic emotional zones chart used in an Illinois school. (Photo: Alonzo Massey/Facebook)

“A kid is a kid, and they’re going to look at this and say, ‘That looks like me,'” Massey said. “How are you going to make sure my kid doesn’t see himself as the angry kid?” he said to the Chicago Tribune. He reached out to the school about the chart on Aug. 24.

According to Gurnee School District 56 Superintendent Colleen Pacatte, a Spaulding teacher got the chart from the site teacherspayteachers.com. Eight educators teaching pre-K through second grade used the chart.

Gurnee School District 56 headquarters.

The site said the chart had been taken down and that the creator of the material had been asked to review the policy on “inappropriate content.”

A letter sent home to parents said the use of the chart was under investigation. Pacatte apologized for the incident and promised the school would do better in the future.

“It wasn’t used by everybody,” she said. “It was selected by a single grade level and a couple of other miscellaneous teachers. As soon as we found out it was going out, we stopped.”

Spaulding parents sounded off about the chart on Facebook. Angenetta Frison, whose kindergartner received the chart, wondered why the Spaulding staff member didn’t use one of the other charts available to help students identify “zones of regulation.”

Feelings charts available online use a variety of images to express different emotions, from emojis to movie characters.

Example of a feelings chart available on the site TeachersPayTeachers.com

“I felt like somebody had to have seen it — whoever was putting these together — and had to have no problem with it,” Frison said.

Pacatte agreed that the chart used by the school staff was not ideal.

“I know the staff that are involved feel horrible,” she said, noting that feelings charts can be useful for encouraging students to self-regulate their emotions.

The eight teachers involved have been provided implicit bias training.

“THESE FOLDERS WERE MADE and someone approved them before they went out,” Massey wrote on Facebook. “They will not depict my son as an angry/ frustrated child.”

“I’m heartbroken that it happened because we have been doing so much work on this. It’s evidence that we have to continue. And we will do that,” Pacatte said.

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