A white teacher in Rochester, NY, is under fire for allegedly telling his class of mostly black seventh-graders to pick seeds out of cotton and put on shackles during social studies lessons about slavery.
Patrick Rausch allegedly taught the lesson about slavery and how cotton is processed at the School of the Arts last Tuesday, WXXI News reported.
“He gave the whole class cotton and we were made to pick out the cotton seeds. He said, ‘Better clean it right, boy,’” student Jahmiere O’Neal told the outlet.
“We were all shocked. We were just surprised that he would give us cotton and we didn’t know what to do,” he added. “It made me feel bad to be a black person.”
His classmate Ja’Nasia Brown said he pushed back against the assignment.
“I immediately was like, ‘Oh, I’m not doing that.’ And then he was like, ‘Do it. It’s for a good grade,’” he said.
Rausch has been put on paid leave while the district investigates the allegations, the outlet reported.
The two students’ mothers said their kids told them Rausch — who allegedly referred to himself as “massah” — let white children refuse to take part in the activity but did not allow their black counterparts to opt out, the Democrat and Chronicle reported.
Precious Tross, Ja’Nasia’s mom, posted about the incident on Facebook and included a photo of the cotton the girl took home from school.
“She’s traumatized; she feels belittled. He made a mockery out of slavery. How dare you?” said Tross, who also goes by Precious Morris.
“I don’t have a problem with you teaching our kids about slavery and what our ancestors went through and how they had to deal with that,” she said, WXXI News reported.
“Our teachers back in the day told us that, but they don’t bring cotton and make you pick cotton seeds out of cotton. And you got the audacity to put the instructions on the board for them,” Tross added.
Jahmiere’s mom, Vialma Ramos-O’Neal, said she initially didn’t believe it when he told her he’d picked cotton in school — but she then came across Tross’ shocking Facebook post.
Ramos-O’Neal’s son also told her that Rausch had allegedly used slurs referring to his developmental disability.
“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-O’Neal told the Democrat and Chronicle.
“I was in shock,” she said.
The two children also told their mothers that Rausch had made black students wear handcuffs and leg shackles earlier in the year — and that when they failed to wriggle out of them, he allegedly said, “It’s OK, your ancestors couldn’t, either,” the newspaper said.
Rausch also reportedly threatened to send Ja’Nasia to the principal’s office or the school counselor if she refused to put on the restraining devices.
“I am a very, very angry parent, and I’m going to stand on all 10 of my toes until I get justice,” said Tross, who is considering legal action against the teachers and the school district.
The parents are calling for Rausch to be axed and for his teaching license to be revoked.
Principal Kelly Nicastro told parents in a letter that school officials “take these allegations very seriously” — and a statement from the school board called them “extremely troubling.”
“In a district of black and brown students, it is important to be sensitive of the historical framework by which our students are engaging and learning,” board president Cynthia Elliott said.
When reached for comment by WXXI News, Rausch said, “No comment.”
Rochester Teachers Association president Adam Urbanski said he’s aware of the matter, but was wary of jumping to any conclusions until the probe is completed.
“While we believe very strongly in due process and the right to an existing lawful protocol, we do not defend the indefensible,” Urbanski told WXXI.
“If someone departs from what they should be doing, they should suffer the consequences, but due process has to be allowed first,” he added.
Rausch appears to have a history of alternative teaching methods, according to WXXI, which reported about a program he led called Rochester Matters in the late 2000s.
“The premise behind Rochester Matters is that children are most engaged and apt to learn when they can connect the topics and issues they are studying in school to their own life experiences,” he wrote in a guest essay for the Democrat and Chronicle in 2007.
With Post wires