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Teacher suspended, forced to apologize after bringing in cotton plants for lesson on slavery and the cotton gin: Report

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Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images

A San Francisco-area teacher was reportedly suspended and forced to issue an apology after bringing a cotton plant to school to assist in a history lesson about slavery and the cotton gin in the United States, the San Francisco Chronicle has reported.

What are the details?

The unnamed educator, a history teacher at the Creative Arts Charter School, was said to have brought in the cotton plants to demonstrate how the plant's sharp edges were enough to pierce a picker's hands.

The lesson, according to the report, "was about the cotton gin and the impact it had on slavery and the Industrial Revolution."

The move reportedly sparked fury in some parents, and within a day of the lesson, the school launched an investigation into the teacher.

Several days later, the school's director issued an apologies to families for what it said was the "unacceptable, harmful, [and] inappropriate" lesson plan that did not in any way reflect the school's "anti-racist, progressive-minded curriculum."

"The teacher was not at the school for five weeks after the controversial class," the report added. "The school declined to confirm whether or how she was placed on leave or disciplined during the investigation, but parents attributed her absence to disciplinary action. When the teacher returned on April 15, she issued a written apology to families."

'Had the potential to cause harm'

The unnamed teacher's apology note included an admission that she realized that the lesson "was not culturally responsive."

“Prior to spring break, I taught a tactile lesson involving raw cotton in an effort to get the students to understand the difficulty of manually processing cotton prior to the invention of Eli Whitney’s Cotton Gin,” the teacher said in the parent letter. “While this lesson was sourced from reliable sources, after conferring with the administration and hearing many of the students reflections, I realize that this lesson was not culturally responsive and had the potential to cause harm."

“In teaching U.S. history, there are many challenging and sensitive topics to learn about and I look forward to continuing to improve my approach to addressing these, with support from the administration," the teacher continued.

In a statement on the matter, school director Fernando Aguilar said, "We didn’t feel like the lesson fit into our mission and our vision. We don’t take things lightly that affect the well-being of our students.”

Aguilar declined to comment on any disciplinary action taken against the teacher, citing personnel privacy regulations.

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