Rochester school officials are investigating claims that a white teacher instructed his mostly Black seventh-grade social studies class to pick cotton seeds and put on cuffs during slavery lessons.
“It made me feel bad about being a Black person,” student Jahmiere O’Neal told news outlets.
The teacher has been placed on leave while the school system investigates the allegations. They came to light after an outraged parent posted to Social media that her daughter was confronted with the cotton-picking lesson on Tuesday.
“He made a mockery of slavery,” the mother, Precious Tross, also known as Precious Morris, told news outlets afterwards.
“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,” she said. “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.”
The teacher has not been identified by school officials. According to Adam Urbanski, President of the Teachers Union, “if someone departs from what they should be doing, they should suffer the consequences, but due process has to be allowed first.”
Tross and Jahmiere’s mother, Vialma Ramos-O’Neal, claimed that the teacher allowed white children to refuse cotton picking while not allowing children of color to do so.
“I immediately was like, ‘Oh, I’m not doing that,’” said Morris’ daughter, Ja’Nasia Brown. “And then he was like, ‘Do it. It’s for a good grade.’”
According to the students, the teacher also brought in handcuffs and shackles on another occasion. When Tross’s daughter refused to put them on, the teacher threatened to send her to the principal’s office or the school counselor, according to Tross.
The parents are demanding that the teacher be fired and that his teaching license be canceled.
In a letter to parents, school principal Kelly Nicastro stated that school leaders “take these allegations very seriously,” and the school board described them as “extremely troubling.”
“In a district of Black and brown students, it is important to be sensitive of the historical framework by which our students are engaging and learning,” said board President Cynthia Elliott. Approximately half of the students at the School of the Arts are Black.