The Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) is being sued by a parent over an elementary school project that she says forced students to participate in cotton picking to learn about slavery, reports NBC News.
Rashunda Pitts described the project as “culturally insensitive” and said that her daughter has suffered “extreme emotional distress” because of the assignment, which Pitts says terrified her daughter.
“She has uncontrollable anxiety attacks,” Pitts stated in the lawsuit about her daughter, adding that her child suffers from depression, anxiety attacks, and other symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder when thinking about her school's cotton-picking project.
The lawsuit alleges that LAUSD and Laurel Span School, Pitts’ daughter was attending that she was attending which has since closed and been replaced by Laurel Cinematic Arts Creative Tech Magnet, humiliated her by having her participate in the slavery project.
Pitts first noticed her daughter showing signs of distress when she became “very quiet and reserved” for two weeks in September 2017 when the project began, the suit states. About a month later, while dropping her daughter off at school, Pitts observed that a cotton field had been planted in front of the school. She immediately called the office to speak to the school’s principal, Amy Diaz, who was unavailable, so she alerted associate principal Brian Wisniewski about the situation.
The associate principal explained to Pitts that “the students in her daughter’s class were reading an autobiography by Frederick Douglass in which Douglass discussed picking cotton, and the field was planted for students to have a ‘real life experience’ of what it was like to be an enslaved person,” the suit says.
After Pitts expressed her concerns about the project, the associate principal agreed to remove the cotton field by the end of the week or the next week.
In the lawsuit, Pitts said that she should have been notified about the “cotton-picking” project and although her daughter did not have to pick any cotton, she experienced emotional trauma watching other children participate.
Back in October 2017, a spokesperson for LAUSD said school administrators removed the cotton plant after becoming aware of Pitts’ concerns.
“We regret that an instructional activity in the garden at Laurel School was construed as culturally insensitive,” the spokesperson said at the time, according to the suit. “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.”
In addition to the school district and the school board, Diaz and the social justice teacher are named as defendants in the lawsuit.