TOMS RIVER, N.J. (AP) — A New Jersey school district has cleared a teacher of wrongdoing for having students pretend to be slaves as part of a history lesson.
A spokesman for Toms River Regional School District said in a statement issued late Thursday that it was not the intention of eighth-grade social studies teacher Lawrence Cuneo to offend his students, the Asbury Park Press reported.
The district’s statement said that “rather, the purpose of the instruction was that this appalling but nevertheless real facet of our nation’s history more fully resonate with students.”
The district said it is working with curriculum directors, district leaders and teachers, including Mr. Cuneo, “to revisit the delivery of instruction to ensure it meets the needs, and accounts for the sensitivities, of all students.” The district spokesman added that all personnel matters remain confidential.
According to social media posts by a student in the class, Cuneo told Toms River Intermediate School students to act as if they were picking cotton and lie on the 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.
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. He said he was merely demonstrating a “degrading and despicable” institution in American history when he told students to pretend to be slaves.
Cuneo apologized in the statement but also said that slavery existed and the lessons learned must be shared and taught, even if uncomfortable.
“At no time was my intention to harm the sensitivities of any student,” Cueno said, “If this lesson did that, I apologize to those affected.”
Former students have come forward to defend Cuneo and an online petition was started supporting the teacher.
Teachers’ methods for teaching about slavery have come into question several times in recent years.