Black Students Told to Pick Cotton During Lessons on Slavery: Parents

A veteran teacher is under investigation amid claims from parents that Black students were made to wear handcuffs and pick cotton during lessons about slavery.

The allegations are leveled against Patrick Rausch, a seventh-grade social studies teacher at the School of the Arts in Rochester, New York, in the last week, according to the newspaper Democrat & Chronicle. In addition to the cotton and shackles, Rausch, who has taught at the school for roughly 20 years, is accused of referring to himself as "massah" during the exercises and allowing white students to opt out of the lesson if they felt uncomfortable, but not students of color.

When Black students said that they were not able to get out of the shackles, Rausch allegedly said, "It's OK; your ancestors couldn't either."

Precious Tross, mother of student Ja'Nasia Brown, leveled accusations against the teacher in a Facebook post Tuesday, which included a photo of some of the cotton her daughter picked in class. Tross' daughter claimed that the teacher also made students sing the slave song, "Wade in the Water."

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"My daughter social studies teacher [grade 7] count yo days," Tross wrote in the post, all in capital letters. "How the hell u make my baby learn how to pick cotton seeds out of the cotton[?]"

The outcry among parents grew from Tross' initial post throughout the week until the Rochester School District acknowledged that the lesson had taken place, calling it a "great concern" in an email to families. Rausch has been placed on administrative leave while the district investigates further.

Approximately half of all students at the School of the Arts are Black, according to the Democrat & Chronicle. Rausch is white, while most of the students in his class are Black.

"The district takes these situations very seriously, as descriptions of what occurred in the classroom by the school community are extremely troubling," the Rochester school board said in a statement sent to families of seventh-grade students.

classroom slavery lesson new york
Students and parents have accused a Rochester, New York, middle school teacher of having Black students pick cotton during a lesson about slavery on Tuesday. Above, a representational image of a classroom. Rodin Eckenroth/Getty Images

Vialma Ramos, who is the mother of student Jahmiere O'Neal, had trouble believing her son's claims about his teacher until she saw the post by Tross. Her son also claims that the teacher used slurs in reference to a developmental disability that he has.

"I have fought all along for Jahmiere to be included in everything his peers are, and this man degraded him, insulted him, and made him not want to be Black," Ramos said, according to Democrat & Chronicle. "I was in shock."

Both Tross and Ramos want Rausch barred from ever teaching again as the minimum punishment for the lesson. As of Friday, the district was still investigating the matter and had not settled on a response to the allegations.

Newsweek reached out to the Rochester School of the Arts for comment.