A white teacher from Upstate New York has been placed on leave and is now under investigation after forcing his seventh-grade social studies students to pick seeds from cotton during a lesson about slavery.
The incident happened on Tuesday (April 26) at the School of the Arts in Rochester and the teacher has not been named. Reports also say that on another occasion, the teacher brought handcuffs and shackles for the mostly Black students to wear.
School officials became aware of the incident after a student’s parent posted about the assignment on Facebook.
The mother of one of the students, Precious Tross, said, “He made a mockery out of slavery.” She continued, “I don’t have a problem with you teaching our kids about slavery and what our ancestors went through and how they had to pick cotton. Our teachers back in the day told us that, but they don’t bring in cotton and make you pick cotton seeds out of cotton.”
Student Janasia Brown recalled the events from that day saying, “He said, ‘It’s cotton, you’re going to be picking cotton today,’ so I immediately was like, ‘Oh, I’m not doing that.’” Brown continued, “And then he was like, ‘Do it. It’s for a good grade.’”
Other students alleged that the teacher showed favor to the white students and allowed them to opt-out of the assignment.
Vialma Ramos-O’Neal’s Black son was a student in the class. “I honestly did not believe him because I never would have expected anything like that to be happening in this day and age,” she said. “The children of color were not given a choice and whether or not they wanted to partake in this, the Caucasian children were able to decline, throw out their cotton and do [it] as [a] separate activity. But my child had to be forced to do that, as well as be handcuffed, as well as be shackled. Absolutely not. This is unacceptable.”
The Rochester Board of Education released a statement that read, “The District was made aware of a lesson that caused great concern during a 7th grade Social Studies class at School of the Arts this past Tuesday. The teacher was immediately placed on leave, and an investigation is underway. The District takes these situations very seriously, as descriptions of what occurred in the classroom by the school community are extremely troubling. A letter was sent to the families of this teacher’s students informing them of the situation. In that letter, we provided an email address that families could use to share any relevant information and concerns.”
For now, a substitute teacher has been assigned to the class.