Less than two months ago, the local community, parents of children and school employees were left devastated after it was discovered that a seventh-grade social studies teacher made his mostly Black, seventh-grade students pick cotton during class. Additionally, the teacher was accused of placing handcuffs and leg shackles during the seventh-grade social studies class and understandably, many found the teacher’s behavior racist and he was placed on administrative leave. Months after the incident, the teacher filed lawsuit against several parents and a social justice organization.
“He gave the whole class cotton and we were made to pick out the cotton seeds. He said, ‘Better clean it right, boy,’” student Jahmiere O’Neal after the incident said. “We were all shocked. We were just surprised that he would give us cotton and we didn’t know what to do,” he added. “It made me feel bad to be a black person.”
The teacher was later identified as P. Rausch and he has been part of the NY based School of the Arts for 20 years. Rausch was additionally accused of referring to himself as “massah” during the exercises and allowing white students to opt out of the lesson if they felt uncomfortable, but not students of color. When Black students said that they were not able to get out of the shackles, Rausch allegedly said, “It’s OK; your ancestors couldn’t either.”
Nearly two months later, the teacher decided to file a lawsuit against two parents of students and a social justice organization for allegedly launching a social media campaign of “inflammatory and untrue statements” about the history lesson in question.
The teacher in the lawsuit says that the alleged incident happened during history class about Eli Whitney and the cotton gin. Rausch claims that he wanted to make his students know how hard it is to pick cotton seeds by hand. For that reason, Rausch brought unprocessed cotton into the classroom, but he didn’t require any of the children to touch the cotton.
“Rausch made it clear that he was not requiring the students to touch the cotton and remove the seeds, and that it was completely voluntary for them to do so,” the lawsuit reads. “The students — both Black and white — were eager to touch the cotton and try to remove the seeds from the cotton, and most chose to do so.
“Rausch was careful to explain to the students that he understood that some people may not be comfortable touching the cotton or picking the seeds out because such work is historically associated with slavery, that he in no way was trying to make them feel like slaves, and that participation was entirely voluntary,” the suit adds.
Rausch also calls out other allegedly false allegations that were made against him, including that he forced Black students to put on handcuffs and shackles. According to the suit, two of the parents named in the lawsuit and the SR Inc. falsefully accused him in posts on Facebook and interviews with the media.
Michael Johnson, the executive director of SR Inc., said in a statement that he was advised not to issue comments at this time. However, a local teacher said that Rausch’s actions were inappropriate even as described in the lawsuit.