LA Elementary School Sued over Cotton Picking Project

The American education system seems to be sitting between two extremes: refusal to teach anything honest about racism and slavery or enforcing education about said subjects to an inappropriate degree. For reference, a parent just filed a civil rights lawsuit against the Los Angeles Unified School District and Board of Education after their child was subjected to a cotton-picking project, reported The Los Angeles Times.

Rashunda Pitts said in the lawsuit that her 14-year-old daughter experienced “emotional distress” as a result of the project. The social justice teacher at Laurel Cinematic Arts Creative Tech Magnet said the project was to help students “gain a real-life experience as to what the African American slaves had endured,” per the suit.

The student herself didn’t have to pick the cotton, but she did watch others complete the project while she tended to the other crops.

More on the lawsuit from The Los Angeles Times:

One day, as Pitts was dropping off her daughter at Laurel Cinematic Arts Creative Tech Magnet, she saw a cotton field in front of the school and called the office to speak with the school’s principal, Amy Diaz, who was unavailable, according to the lawsuit. Pitts spoke with Assistant Principal Brian Wisniewski, who explained that S.W.’s class was reading Frederick Douglass’ autobiography and the cotton field was created so students could have a “real life experience” of slavery, the lawsuit says.

After Pitts expressed her disappointment with the project, Wisniewski agreed and said the school’s principal would reach out to Pitts, the lawsuit states. Diaz listened to Pitts’ request for the cotton field to be taken down in 24 hours but said that the school couldn’t accommodate such a quick turnaround, saying it could aim for the end of the week or the following week, but couldn’t make any promises, according to the lawsuit.

Pitts’ daughter said she was afraid to tell her about the project because she didn’t want retaliation from teachers or bad grades. The school didn’t obtain permission from parents in order for their students to participate in the project nor were they informed about the project’s existence, the suit alleges.

When I was in elementary school, we had to gather for an assembly on slavery. The projection screen hanging from the stage showed images of the plantations and the people, including the widely known portrait of an enslaved man named Gordon with his back turned showing all of his whip slashes and scars.

I was given the option to leave the assembly if I became uncomfortable. However, the awkward, silent walk back to the classroom as the white kids stared at me was probably worse than sitting through that slideshow.

Pitt’s lawsuit says her daughter was discriminated against based on her race and had also experienced “uncontrollable anxiety attacks” and “bouts of depression” thinking about the project. I don’t doubt this would be the result of a situation like this.

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