BY Emmanuel Kwarteng, 1:13pm August 19, 2022,

Mom sues after LA school project made children pick cotton

A Diablo View Middle School student was disciplined over a "racist" joke -- Photo Credit: Kimberly Vardeman

A Black mom has sued the Los Angeles Unified School District and the Board of Education over a cotton field which was allegedly planted at an elementary school in 2017 with the intention of teaching pupils about the lives of slaves. 

Rashunda Pitts argued that her 14-year-old daughter, identified in the lawsuit as “S.W.,” suffered emotional distress as a result of the project at Laurel Span School that was intended to give students “a real-life experience as to what the African American slaves had endured,” according to her social justice teacher. 

The former principal of the school and a social justice teacher are also named as defendants in the lawsuit. Since the completion of the project, Laurel Span School has closed down and been replaced by Laurel Cinematic Arts Creative Tech Magnet.

According to the suit, Pitts indicated her daughter used to “vibrantly share her day with her mother” but that she had become “very quiet and reserved”, owing to her exposure to the project.  

When Pitts observed a cotton field in front of the school one day while she was dropping off her daughter, she called the office to talk with Amy Diaz, the school’s principal, who was not available, the suit states. Pitts met with Assistant Principal Brian Wisniewski; he indicated that S.W.’s class was reading Frederick Douglass’ autobiography. 

According to the lawsuit, Wisniewski concurred when Pitts expressed her dissatisfaction with the project and assured Pitts that the school’s principal would get in touch with her. According to the lawsuit, Diaz listened to Pitts’ request to remove the cotton field in 24 hours but informed Pitts that the school couldn’t accommodate such a quick turnaround. Diaz stated that the school could aim for the end of the week or the following week but couldn’t make any guarantees.

According to the lawsuit, Pitts’ daughter claimed that her social justice teacher ordered children to “pick cotton” even though she was not obliged to do so herself and instead had to watch other kids finish the project while she took care of other plants in the garden.

Pitts’ daughter said she feared repercussions from teachers or receiving a poor mark if she told her about the project. The lawsuit claims that the school failed to notify parents of the project’s existence or acquire their consent for their children to participate in it.

According to the lawsuit, the school district then issued a statement to a reporter apologizing “that an instructional activity in the garden at Laurel School was construed as culturally insensitive.”

“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,” portion of the statement reads, adding that, “When school administrators became aware of a parent’s concern about the cotton plant, they responded immediately by removing the plant.”

Pitts claims that the district lied to hide its actions and that the statement “directly contradicts” the justification for the project that the assistant principal of the school gave to her. Pitts said that as a result, her daughter experienced racial discrimination.

“S.W. has suffered extreme emotional distress,” the lawsuit claims. “She has uncontrollable anxiety attacks and has experiences bouts of depression when she thinks about the Cotton Picking Project.”

Last Edited by:Mildred Europa Taylor Updated: August 19, 2022


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