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L.A. Mother Sues School District, Saying Cotton Picking Project Left Her Child Emotionally Distressed

The school wanted to give elementary students a “real-life experience” with the history of enslavement.

A Black mother filed a civil rights lawsuit last week against the Los Angeles Unified School District and its Board of Education, alleging that in 2017, a cotton field was set up at an elementary school to teach students about experiences enslaved people endured, but only left her child traumatized.

The Los Angeles Times reports Rashunda Pitts claims in her suit that her 14-year-old daughter suffered emotional distress as a result of the project at Laurel Span School. The child’s social justice teacher claimed the exercise was designed to give students "gain a real-life experience as to what the African American slaves had endured."

According to the lawsuit, Pitts was dropping off her daughter on campus one day when she noticed a cotton field in front of the school. When she called the office, she was able to speak with Assistant Principal Brian Wisniewski, who explained that her child’s class was reading Frederick Douglass' autobiography, and that the cotton field was set up so students could have a "real life experience" with slavery.

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Pitts' daughter also stated that her social justice teacher required students to "pick cotton," and while she was not forced to do so, she had to watch other students complete the project while she cared for other crops in the garden.

The child said she was afraid to tell her mother about the project because she didn't want to face repercussions from teachers or receive poor grades. The lawsuit points out that the school did not obtain permission from parents for their students to participate in the project, nor were they informed about such a project taking place.

Pitts says she filed a lawsuit because of the impact upon her child, referred to as “S.W.,” “S.W. has suffered extreme emotional distress," the lawsuit states. "She has uncontrollable anxiety attacks and experiences bouts of depression when she thinks about the Cotton Picking Project."

The suit also names as defendants the school's then-principal and a social justice teacher. Since the project, Laurel Span School has been closed, and a new school, Laurel Cinematic, has been established.

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