A Black woman is suing her daughter’s Los Angeles school after it subjected her class to a cotton picking exercise “to see what slavery was like,” according to court documents.
Rashunda Pitts is filing a civil right suit against Los Angeles Unified and the Board of Education on behalf of her daughter, who was only identified as S.W. in the Los Angeles Superior Court complaint filed on Wednesday.
Pitts’ lawsuit claims a cotton picking field was set up at her Hollywood school back in 2017, under the auspices of being an educational tool about what life was like for slaves, NBC Los Angeles reports.
“Bewildered as to why a cotton field would be growing in Hollywood, let alone on public school property, she called the front office to speak with the principal about the cotton field,” the suit states.
Daughter Became Sullen And More Depressed As School Year Went On, Suit Alleges
The daughter, who is now 14 years old, was attending Lauren Span School in the fall of 2017 and reportedly became more and more sullen as the school year went on, attributing it to being tired.
When Pitts saw the cotton field on campus for herself after dropping her daughter off at school, her daughter’s mood became more understandable “when she thinks about the cotton picking project,” the suit states.
“She (S.W.) has uncontrollable anxiety attacks and has experiences bouts of depression when she thinks about the cotton picking project,” according to the suit, which also alleges negligence and seeks unspecified damages.
A representative for the LAUSD did not immediately reply to a request for comment.
Assistant Principal “Enthusiastically” Told Student’s Mother About Cotton Picking Project
The suit states that Pitts eventually confronted Assistant Principal Brian Wisniewski, who “enthusiastically informed her that the children in S.W.’s class were reading the autobiography of Frederick Douglass and that picking cotton was one of the experiences that he wrote about in the autobiography.”
Wisniewski added that the cotton field was planted so students could experience what it was like to be a slave and pick cotton themselves, the suit claims.
“Completely incensed with the idea that the school would have her daughter and other children pick cotton as a school exercise to identify with the real-life experience of African-American slaves, Ms. Pitts expressed her disappointment and hurt in regards to the culturally insensitive and incompetent project,” according to the suit.
The class in which the exercise is said to haven taken place was in a course in social justice. Although Pitts’ daughter was not forced to participate, she had to watch other students picking cotton.
She added that her daughter was reluctant to come forward about the inappropriateness of the project due to fear of retaliation from teachers, according to the lawsuit.
School Administrators Later Admitted They Regret The “Instructional Activity”
No parental permission forms were provided for the project and parents were not told about the idea beforehand.
Meanwhile, the suit states that LAUSD later released a statement, stating it regretted that an “instructional activity” at Laurel Span School was construed as culturally insensitive.
“When school administrators became aware of a parent’s concern about the cotton plant, they responded immediately by removing the plant,” the statement said.
Pitts’ suit claims the statement is an acknowledgment that the cotton picking project was discriminatory and harmful to students, the suit goes on to say.