New York teacher under investigation for cotton-picking lesson

School officials in Rochester, New York are investigating allegations that a white teacher told his class of mostly Black students to pick seeds out of cotton and put on handcuffs during lessons on slavery in a seventh-grade social studies class.

“It made me feel bad to be a Black person,” one School of the Arts student, Jahmiere O’Neal, told reporters.

The teacher was put on leave. School officials did not identify the teacher. The teachers union president, Adam Urbanski, told WXXI-AM that “if someone departs from what they should be doing, they should suffer the consequences, but due process has to be allowed first”.

The allegations came to light after an appalled parent posted on Facebook that her daughter was confronted with the cotton-picking lesson on Tuesday.

“He made a mockery out of slavery,” the mother, Precious Tross, told news outlets.

“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.”

Tross and Vialma Ramos-O’Neal, Jahmiere’s mother, said the teacher let white children refuse to take part in the cotton-picking while not letting children of color opt out.

“I immediately was like, ‘Oh, I’m not doing that,’” said Morris’s daughter, Ja’Nasia Brown. “And then he was like, ‘Do it. It’s for a good grade.”’

On another occasion, the teacher brought in handcuffs and shackles, students said. Tross said that when her daughter balked at putting them on, the teacher threatened to send her to the principal’s office or the school counselor.

The parents are calling for the teacher’s firing and for his license to be revoked.

The school’s principal, Kelly Nicastro, told parents in a letter school leaders “take these allegations very seriously”. A statement from the school board called the allegations “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,” board president Cynthia Elliott said.


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