TOMS RIVER, N.J. — A New Jersey school district is investigating a teacher’s history lesson that had students pretend to be slaves, officials said.
According to social media posts by a student in the class, 8th-grade social studies teacher Lawrence Cuneo forced Toms River Intermediate School students to act as if they were picking cotton and lay on a dirty floor while pretending to be slaves, The Asbury Park Press reported Tuesday.
The student also said in the posts that Cuneo made the noise of a cracking whip over them and kicked at students’ feet.
The Asbury Park Press received screenshots of the Instagram posts by the student’s mother. She did not return requests seeking comment from the newspaper.
A spokesman for Toms River Regional School District said the district is investigating what happened.
Cuneo, who is also in his third term as mayor of the small town of Pine Beach, emailed a statement Wednesday to a radio station and the Asbury Park Press. In the statement, he said he was demonstrating a “degrading and despicable” institution in American history when he told students to pretend to be slaves.
Cuneo apologized but said the lessons learned from slavery must be shared and taught.
“At no time was my intention to harm the sensitivities of any student,” Cueno said in the emailed statement, “If this lesson did that, I apologize to those affected.”
District spokesman Michael Kenny said that as the investigation moves forward, “We are keeping in mind that our curriculum has evolved to include more hands-on, authentic activities.” He added that it seems initially clear that Cuneo had no ill intent, but should have used better judgment.
Teachers’ methods for teaching about slavery have come into question several times in recent years.
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