A black parent is suing the Los Angeles Unified School District and Board of Education for a civil rights infringement after her daughter’s school allegedly had children picking cotton to learn about life as a slave.
Rashunda Pitts said her now-14-year-old daughter, identified in the suit as S.W., experienced emotional distress as a result of the project, which she deemed culturally insensitive, and claimed her daughter now suffers from anxiety, according to the lawsuit filed in the Los Angeles Superior Court last week.
“S.W. has suffered extreme emotional distress,” the lawsuit said, according to the Los Angeles Times. “She has uncontrollable anxiety attacks and has experiences bouts of depression when she thinks about the Cotton Picking Project.”
The reported incident dates back to 2017, when Pitts’s daughter’s social justice teacher planted a cotton field in front of the school as part of the campus garden. The school claimed the garden was to give children a “real life experience” of what it was like to be a slave by “picking cotton” because they were reading the autobiography of Frederick Douglass. Pitts’s daughter was not required to pick the cotton but was forced to watch other children do so while she tended to other plants in the garden, according to the lawsuit.
School officials did not notify parents of the project or obtain permission for their children to participate in the project, the lawsuit said. Pitts said that when she brought the problem up to officials, they agreed with her and agreed to remove the crops by the end of the week or the following week. However, they were unable to remove the crops by the next day as Pitts initially requested.
The school later put out a statement that Pitts argued was dismissive of her complaints, and she alleged the school lied to cover up its discriminatory actions, according to the outlet.
“Tending to the garden where a variety of fruits, vegetables and other plants grow is a school-wide tradition that has been in place for years and has never been used as a tool to re-enact historical events,” said the school’s statement, obtained by the Los Angeles Times. “When school administrators became aware of a parent’s concern about the cotton plant, they responded immediately by removing the plant.”
Other discriminatory and insensitive projects have stirred outrage in the country, including an investigation in New York into whether a white teacher told his class of mostly black seventh graders to pick seeds out of cotton and put on handcuffs during a lesson on slavery, according to the Guardian.
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“Unfortunately, [slavery is] addressed often in ways that are either marginalizing or it’s the only way that black people … are brought into the curriculum,” said Keffrelyn Brown, a professor of cultural studies in education at the University of Texas, Austin, told the Guardian. “We can never re-create, nor should we want to re-create, enslavement. It minimizes the trauma of the history itself.”
The Washington Examiner reached out to the Los Angeles Unified School District for comment.