"It's good to be informed about slavery but making us clean and pick cotton and pretending to wip (sic) us?" the student wrote on social media, per the Asbury Park Press. "Are you nuts it's 2020 not 1800 get it right." Toms River social studies teacher Lawrence Cuneo, who's also mayor of Pine Beach, is further alleged to have had students pretend to "pick cotton and lay" on the floor and kicked the students' feet.
"As we comb through and further investigate the details of the alleged incident, we are keeping in mind that our curriculum has evolved to include more hands-on, authentic activities," Toms River school district spokesperson Michael Kenny said of the ensuing investigation. "It seems initially clear that there was no ill intent but that better judgment should have been used with regard to the alleged instructional methods, particularly as it pertains to recognizing the sensitivities of all students."
Amid the controversy, other students and parents have defended the teacher, alleging that the lesson in question was "voluntary" in nature. In an emailed statement cited by WKXW, Cuneo said the lessons learned from slavery "need to be told" even if such lessons are "uncomfortable" for some. Enrollment data pointed out by New York Daily News shows the school, Toms River Intermediate East, is mostly white.
"At no time was my intention to harm the sensitivities of any student," Cuneo said. "If this lesson did that, I apologize to those affected."