Rochester school officials are investigating allegations that a white teacher told his class of mostly black students to pick cotton seeds and put handcuffs on during slavery lessons in a seventh-grade social studies class.
ROCHESTER, New York – Rochester school officials are investigating allegations that a white teacher told his mostly black students to pick cotton seeds and handcuff during slavery lessons in a seventh-grade social studies class.
“It made me feel bad for being a black person,” student Jahmeir O’Neill told news outlets.
The teacher has been placed on leave while the school system investigates the allegations. They came to light after a panicked parent posted on Facebook that her daughter faced a cotton-picking lesson on Tuesday.
“He mocked slavery,” the mother, Precious Truss, to which Precious Morris belongs, later told the media.
“I have no problem teaching our children about slavery, what our ancestors went through and how they had to pick cotton,” she said. “Our teachers told us that day, but they don’t bring the cotton and make you pick the cotton seeds out of the cotton.”
School officials did not recognize the teacher. Adam Urbansky, president of the teachers’ union, told WXXI-AM that “if someone walks away from what they should be doing, the consequences should be borne, but first due process should be allowed.”
Jahmeir’s mother, Truss and Vialma Ramos O’Neill, said the teacher allowed white children to refuse to participate in cotton picking while not allowing children of color to quit.
“I immediately felt like, ‘Oh, I’m not doing that,’” said Maurice’s daughter, Janasia Brown. “And then he said, ‘Do it. It’s for a good grade.’”
On another occasion, the teacher put on handcuffs and shackles, according to the students. Truss said that when her daughter refrained from wearing them, the teacher threatened to send her to the principal’s office or school counselor.
Parents are demanding the teacher’s dismissal and revocation of his teaching license.
Principal Kelly Nicastro told parents in a letter that school leaders “take these allegations seriously,” and a statement from the school board called them “extremely concerning.”
“In the Black and Brown Student District, it is important to be sensitive to the historical framework within which our students engage and learn,” said Cynthia Elliott, chair of the board. About half of the art school’s students are black.