Cotton Picking Project at L.A. Elementary School Leads Black Student’s Mother to File Lawsuit

A Black woman has filed a lawsuit against the L.A. Unified School District after her daughter's elementary school set up a cotton field for a project.

This is a photo of an empty class room.

This is a photo of an empty class room.

This is a photo of an empty class room.

A Black mother filed a lawsuit on behalf of her daughter after she discovered her elementary school created a cotton field to get students to “identify with the real-life experience of African American slaves,” per theLos Angeles Times.

In her suit, Rashunda Pitts alleges she dropped off her now-14-year-old daughter, referred to in court documents as S.W., at Laurel Cinematic Arts Creative Tech Magnet in 2017 when she caught a glimpse at what appeared to be a cotton field in the front of the school. Pitts was unable to speak with principal Amy Diaz upon her request, but ended up talking to assistant principal Brian Wisniewski, who tried to explain their rationale behind the project. 

Wisniewski said S.W.’s class was reading the autobiography of Frederick Douglass and “picking cotton was one of the experiences that he wrote about,” according to the lawsuit. Pitts claims S.W. said her social justice teacher required students to pick cotton, and while her daughter wasn’t forced to do so, she still had to observe her classmates participating in the project. 

“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,” the suit states. 

Pitts voiced her disapproval to Wisniewski, who reportedly said he would relay the message to Diaz. Pitts alleges she asked Diaz to take down the cotton field in 24 hours, to which the principal expressed doubt in the school’s ability to meet her timeline, saying they could instead “aim for the end of the week or the following week, but couldn’t make any promises.”

Pitts alleges in her suit that S.W. was “afraid” to inform her of the project because she was concerned about “retaliation from teachers or bad grades.” Pitts claims the school never received approval from the students’ parents to partake in such an assignment, and were completely unaware of its existence beforehand. 

Pitts is suing the Los Angeles Unified School District and Board of Education, claiming her daughter suffered emotional distress. According to NBC Los Angeles, the suit claims the LAUSD seemingly acknowledged the project was “discriminatory and harmful to the students” in its statement, which does allegedly mention how the school swiftly removed the “instructional activity” after administrators were made aware of a parent’s complaint.

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