School Aide Resigns After Making 'Picking Cotton' Remark to Students

An aide from a school in Oregon has resigned after making “inappropriate racialized comments” to students, district officials said.The school aide, who worked at Linwood Elementary School in Milwaukie, Oregon’s North Clackamas School District, reportedly used comments about slavery and manual labor to refer to students during lunch on May 31, The Oregonian reported.

Syreeta Spencer, who is the mother of a fifth-grader that attends the elementary school, said the employee, who has remained unnamed, was reprimanding a group of students for being too noisy during lunch, according to the publication. Spencer claimed that the aide told the group — comprised mostly of students of color — that she would record their behavior and show it to their parents at graduation.

The mother reported that the situation escalated and the school employee told the students that they were fortunate they weren’t “picking cotton and cleaning or painting a house.”

“I was shocked,” Spencer told the publication. “I sure wasn’t expecting her to say a person that is above them, that is supposed to look after them, said that. I was super upset and angry.”Spencer’s daughter Jasmyn told KGW8 that the aide’s remarks made her feel “really sad and targeted,” and it upset her classmates.“They were really upset," she told the news station. "A lot of them ended up getting hurt inside."

Spencer pushed for the employee, who monitored lunch and recess at the Oregon elementary school, to be fired, KGW8 reported.In a letter to the parents sent by acting principal Rosina Hardy and obtained by KGW8, Hardy stated that the district had launched an investigation on June 3. In a second letter to parents sent on June 11 and obtained by The North Star, Hardy claimed that the district had completed their investigation and that the aide is “no longer employed within the North Clackamas School District.”

“We know and understand that the impact of words spoken can be hurtful for our students and that was the case in this situation. I deeply regret this impact and will continue to work with our students and school community to make sure they are heard and feel supported,” the letter from Hardy read. “Our school and the school district are committed to an inclusive environment that honors each student’s identity and provides safety, respect, and care in each of our spaces.”Spencer told The Oregonian that the school will host a group conversation for students where they can ask questions about minority-related issues. She hopes the incident will spark conversation, stating that this is the best way to address the incident. “It’s so much deeper than that,” Spencer told the publication. “I was hoping this would bring up dialogue and some empathy. I don’t know why [the employee] felt comfortable saying that in the first place.”

In Roosevelt, New York in March, two teachers were fired and another was placed on paid leave after pictures of nooses displayed in a classroom were posted to social media, Long Island News 12 previously reported. In February, images of a collage with two nooses that read “back to school necklaces” appeared in a classroom at Roosevelt Middle School and were subsequently shared on social media by Pastor Arthur L. Mackey Jr. During a board meeting on February 13, many people in the community demanded that the teachers involved be fired. “People are hurt. I’m hurt. The community is hurt and the board is certainly hurt by this event,” district Superintendent Marnie Hazelton said in a statement at the time. “However, this is our teachable moment. Four hundred years to the year that slaves were brought to this continent, to stand here in 2019 still talking about imagery, nooses, things that were used to terrorize, to threaten, to harm and ultimately kill; we completely understand the seriousness of this matter.”

The three teachers were placed on paid leave following the incident. During a board meeting on March 19, the Roosevelt School Board voted to terminate two of the teachers and suspend the third, who is tenured, without pay. According to News 12 Long Island, it remains unclear when there will be another meeting about the fate of the third teacher.

About the Author

Maria Perez is a breaking news writer for The North Star. She has an M.A. in Urban Reporting from the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism. She has been published in the various venues, including Newsweek, Juvenile Justice Information Exchange, City Limits, and local newspapers like The Wave and The Home Reporter.