Black Mom Says Cotton-Picking School Project Traumatized Daughter

By Zuri Anderson

August 16, 2022

Tree branch with cotton flowers on white background
Photo: Getty Images

A Black mother is suing a California school district after an elementary school assignment involving cotton-picking left her daughter emotionally distressed, according to The Los Angeles Times.

Rashunda Pitts filed a lawsuit against the Los Angeles Unified School District and its Board of Education last week, alleging that her 14-year-old daughter was traumatized from a slavery lesson involving a cotton field at Laurel Span School.

The incident reportedly happened in 2017, where the social justice teacher gave an exercise in which students had to pick cotton from the field and "gain a real-life experience as to what the African American slaves had endured." The daughter, identified as S.W. in the suit, wasn't forced to pick cotton and watched the other students complete the assignment as she took care of other crops in the garden.

Pitts claims the school didn't notify the parents about the project nor required permission from them, according to the documents. When the mother spoke with Assistant Principal Brian Wisniewski about the assignment, he reportedly told her the class was reading Frederick Douglass' autobiography, and the lesson aimed to teach students about the "real life experience" of slavery.

Since the incident, S.W. suffered "uncontrollable anxiety attacks and experiences bouts of depression when she thinks about the Cotton Picking Project," the lawsuit states.

The school's then-principal Amy Diaz and the social justice teachers are also named as defendants in the suit. Laurel Span School has since been shut down, and a new school was established: Laurel Cinematic Arts Creative Tech Magnet, according to the Times.

Reporters reached out to the defendants for comments. Diaz and the teacher declined, while an LAUSD spokesperson told the newspaper they don't comment on ongoing or pending litigation.

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