The New York teacher accused of forcing Black students to pick cotton and wear shackles is fighting the allegations in a lawsuit against multiple parents and a social justice organization, the Democrat & Chronicle reports.
Patrick Rausch, a white teacher in the Rochester City School District, is suing Save Rochester Inc. and two parents for allegedly launching a social media campaign of "inflammatory and untrue statements" about the history lesson in question.
In the lawsuit, Rausch claims that he brought unprocessed cotton into the classroom to teach his seventh-grade students about Eli Whitney and the cotton gin. Rausch insists that he only wanted to show the students how hard it is to pick the seeds by hand and that 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.
The teacher, who was put on leave after the incident, also argues in the suit that stories of Black students being handcuffed and shackled in his classroom were falsely smeared on social media and in interviews with the media by the two parents and the Save Rochester organization.
Michael Johnson, the executive director of Save Rochestester Inc., said in a statement, "While I have been advised to issue 'no comment' at this time, my heart certainly aches for the children impacted by what they perceive to be flagrant acts of racism and hateful manipulation."
Rashad Smith, a local teacher, said Rausch's actions were inappropriate even as described in the lawsuit.
"As an educator, it is critically important for him [Rausch] to understand the decisions he makes and how it impacts all students, particularly Black students," Smith said.