A white teacher in Rochester, N.Y. accused of having his Black students pick cotton during a history lesson filed a lawsuit Friday (June 17) against those who allegedly made him a victim by misrepresentations of what actually happened in the classroom, the Associated Press reports.
According to a lawsuit filed by Patrick Rausch, the false allegations that appeared in the media resulted in officials placing him on administrative leave and barring him from entering school property and having any contact with staff members or school administration. It names two parents, the social justice nonprofit group Save Rochester Inc. and its executive director Michael Johnson as defendants.
Rausch said in the lawsuit that he brought unprocessed cotton in April to his seventh-grade social studies classroom, comprised mostly of Black students, the AP noted. He intended to demonstrate the difficulty of removing cotton seeds by hand. Rausch claims that he made it clear that the activity was voluntary.
"The students — both black and white — were eager to touch the cotton and try to remove the seeds from the cotton, and most chose to do so,” The Rochester Democrat & Chronicle quotes the lawsuit.
"Rausch was careful to explain to the students that he understood that some people may not be comfortable touching the cotton or picking the seeds out because such work is historically associated with slavery, that he in no way was trying to make them feel like slaves, and that participation was entirely voluntary."
The New York Times reported in May that parents of Rausch’s students said the teacher instructed the students to pick the seeds out of the cotton, making it an involuntary classroom activity. They also alleged that Rausch referred to himself as “massah” and only allowed the white students to stop cleaning the cotton when they asked, but not the Black students.
“This has been going on all year long. I’m so angry and hurt for these kids,” The Times quoted the Facebook post of Vialma Ramos-O’Neal, the mother of a student in Rausch’s class.
Ramos-O’Neal and another parent also wrote separately on Facebook that Rausch, during a different classroom lesson, forced them to wear handcuffs for a magic trick and ordered the children to free themselves.
When her son couldn’t remove the handcuff, Rausch said, “‘It’s OK, your ancestors couldn’t do it either,’” she quoted the teacher’s alleged comment.
The Democrat & Chronicle identified the two parents in the lawsuit as Ramos-O’Neal and Precious Morris. They told the newspaper that they could not immediately comment on the lawsuit.
The lawsuit accused Save Rochester of of hosting a meeting where “false allegations against Rausch” were made.
"While I have been advised to issue 'no comment' at this time, my heart certainly aches for the children impacted by what they perceive to be flagrant acts of racism and hateful manipulation," Johnson stated.