LA Elementary School Sued over Cotton Picking Project

Last week, a civil rights lawsuit was filed against the Los Angeles Unified School District and Board of Education. The complaint says that in 2017 an elementary school had set up cotton fields as part if their curriculum on slavery which is supposed teach students about these experiences – but it doesn’t seem like they did much learning!

The lawsuit claims that S.W., a 14-year old student at Laurel Span School in Maryland was emotionally distressed after completing the project which her social justice teacher said would help students “gain an understanding of what African American slaves endured.” The Laurel Span School closed recently, and a new school opened in its place-Laurel Cinematic Arts Creative Tech Magnet. The former Principal and social justice teacher have been named as defendants following the closure of Laurel Span School.

From The LA Times:

“Pitts said that in September 2017, she noticed her daughter had become “very quiet and reserved” when she used to “vibrantly share her day with her mother,” the lawsuit states.

One day, as Pitts was dropping off her daughter on campus, 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 that 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.

Wisniewski and Diaz didn’t immediately return requests for comment. An LAUSD spokesperson said the district didn’t comment on ongoing or pending litigation.”

According to the lawsuit, the school district later issued a statement to a journalist stating that it regrets “that an educational activity in the garden at Laurel High School was taken as racially insensitive.”

“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,” according to the statement. “When school administrators became aware of a parent’s concern about the cotton plant, they responded immediately by removing the plant.” 

Pitt’s lawsuit claims that her daughter was discriminated against and had also experienced “uncontrollable anxiety attacks,” which led to bouts of depression.

Seems to me like the American education system appears to be trapped between two extremes: refusing to teach anything truthful about racism and slavery, and forcing students to study said issues to an excessive degree.

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Nathan Odige