New Jersey Teacher Investigated Over Slavery Lesson Where He Pretended to Whip Students

A teacher in New Jersey is under investigation after he allegedly taught a class on slavery that involved making his students pretend to pick cotton while he simulated whipping them.

Lawrence Cuneo, an eighth-grade social studies teacher at Toms River Intermediate East, is also alleged to have kicked students' feet while they lay on the floor as part of the Black History Month lesson, reported the Asbury Park Press.

Toms River School District officials launched an investigation after one of his students complained about the lesson in an Instagram post.

"It's good to be informed about slavery but making us clean and pick cotton and pretending to wip [sic] us? Are you nuts it's 2020 not 1800 get it right," the student allegedly wrote. The post has not been verified by Newsweek.

Toms River School District spokesman Michael Kenny confirmed in a statement that a "thorough investigation" was underway.

"As we comb through and further investigate the details of the alleged incident, we are keeping in mind that our curriculum has evolved to include more hands-on, authentic activities," Kenny said.

"It seems initially clear that there was no ill intent but that better judgment should have been used with regard to the alleged instructional methods, particularly as it pertains to recognizing the sensitivities of all students."

Cuneo, who has been a teacher for 18 years and is in his third term as mayor of Pine Beach, defended the extreme nature of the lesson but apologized to those it upset.

"The intent of this lesson was to show how degrading and despicable the institution of slavery was in our history. Slavery existed within our country and the lessons learned, even if uncomfortable, need to be told," Cuneo told Newsweek.

"At no time was my intention to harm the sensitivities of any student. If this lesson did that, I apologize to those affected."

Fred Rush, president of the Ocean County-Lakewood NAACP, said no students, no matter what race they were, should have been made to do the role-playing exercise.

"It's not appropriate, no matter who the students are. If it's wrong, it's wrong," Rush told "There are some things you don't play out."

Cuneo and the school district have been contacted for further comment.

Last February, a school in Virginia apologized after it was found to have made children act like runaway slaves during a gym class.

The Madison's Trust Elementary School in Ashburn was criticized for making children run around an obstacle course that was meant to represent the legendary Underground Railroad.

In a statement, Principal David Stewart said the lesson was "contradictory to our overall goals of empathy, affirmation, and creating a culturally responsive learning environment for all."

oms River Intermediate School East
A oms River Intermediate East teacher is being investigated for allegedly making his students and pick cotton while he acted like a slave driver during class. Google Maps