Woman sues over cotton picking project at daughter's Hollywood school

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LOS ANGELES (CNS) - A Black woman has filed a civil rights suit on behalf of her daughter against Los Angeles Unified and the Board of Education, alleging the girl suffered emotional distress after a cotton picking field was set up at her Hollywood school in 2017 as an instructional tool about what life was like for slaves.

Rashunda Pitts alleges the defendants discriminated against her plaintiff daughter, who is identified only as S.W. in the Los Angeles Superior Court complaint brought Wednesday.

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“She (S.W.) has uncontrollable anxiety attacks and has experiences bouts of depression when she thinks about the cotton picking project,” according to the suit, which also alleges negligence and seeks unspecified damages.

An LAUSD representative did not immediately reply to a request for comment.

S.W., who is now 14 years old, attended Lauren Span School in Hollywood in the fall of 2017 and enthusiastically shared the events of her school day with Pitts at first, but her daughter became more sullen as the semester went on and attributed it to being tired, the suit states.

However, not long afterward, Pitts saw a cotton field on campus while dropping her daughter off at school, the suit states.

“Bewildered as to why a cotton field would be growing in Hollywood, let alone on public school property, she called the front office to speak with the principal about the cotton field,” the suit states.

Pitts eventually talked to Assistant Principal Brian Wisniewski, who “enthusiastically informed her that the children in S.W.'s class were reading the autobiography of Frederick Douglass and that picking cotton was one of the experiences that he wrote about in the autobiography,” the suit states.

Wisniewski further explained that the cotton field was planted so that the students could have a real-life experience of what it was like to be a slave by picking cotton themselves, the suit states.

“Completely incensed with the idea that the school would have her daughter and other children pick cotton as a school exercise to identify with the real-life experience of African-American slaves, Ms. Pitts expressed her disappointment and hurt in regards to the culturally insensitive and incompetent project,” according to the suit.

Pitts' daughter later confided in her that her social justice teacher required students to pick cotton to learn what it was like to be a slave and that while she was not forced to participate, she had to watch other students doing so, according to the suit.

S.W. had a perfect grade-point average and was initially reluctant to discuss the project for fear of retaliation from teachers, the suit states.

No school officials obtained the parent's permission for their children to participate in the cotton picking project and parents were not told about the idea before its implementation, the suit states.

The LAUSD later released a statement stating it regretted that an “instructional activity” at Laurel Span School was construed as culturally
insensitive, according to the suit.

“When school administrators became aware of a parent's concern about the cotton plant, they responded immediately by removing the plant,” the statement said, according to the suit.

The LAUSD's statement represents an acknowledgment that the school district recognized that Laurel Span School's Cotton Picking Project, as explained to Pitts and the school students, was discriminatory and harmful to the students, the suit alleges.

“The district's response was a lie to cover up the discriminatory
conduct,” the suit states.

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