New York teacher on leave after allegedly making Black students pick cotton

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ROCHESTER, N.Y. – A teacher at Rochester’s School of the Arts is on leave facing a host of allegations of racist behavior, including placing handcuffs and leg shackles on his mostly Black students and making them pick cotton during a seventh grade social studies class.

The mothers of two children in different class sections said their children shared the same anecdotes with them this week, including that the teacher, 20-year Rochester schools veteran Patrick Rausch, referred to himself as “massah” and allowed white students in the classes to stop when they complained, but not Black students.

“I almost drove off the road,” said Precious Tross, whose daughter, Ja’Nasia Brown, is in Rausch’s class. Tross posted about the incident on Facebook last week, including a photo of the boll of cotton that her daughter took home from school.

“She’s traumatized; she feels belittled,” Tross said. “He made a mockery out of slavery. How dare you.”

The cotton-picking lesson happened Tuesday and spread publicly after Tross’ initial post, including Thursday evening in a widely circulated email from the advocacy group Save Rochester.

The district confirmed that the lesson did take place, saying it was of “great concern,” and that Rausch was on administrative leave while it investigates. An email went out to all families of seventh grade students.

“The district takes these situations very seriously, as descriptions of what occurred in the classroom by the school community are extremely troubling,” the school board wrote in a statement. 

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School of the Arts’ student body is about half Black; Rausch is white.

Vialma Ramos said she initially didn’t believe it when her son, Jahmiere O’Neal, told her last Tuesday afternoon that he had picked cotton in school that day. It sounded too far-fetched, she said. Then she saw Tross’ post on Facebook.

Ramos asked her son more about Rausch and heard more that troubled her, including that the teacher had used slurs referring to O’Neal’s developmental disability.

“I have fought all along for Jahmiere to be included in everything his peers are, and this man degraded him, insulted him and made him not want to be Black,” Ramos said. “I was in shock.”

The two students also separately reported to their mothers that Rausch had made Black students wear handcuffs and leg shackles in a lesson earlier in the year. When they failed to wriggle out of them, they reported, he told them: “It’s OK; your ancestors couldn’t either.”

“I am a very, very angry parent, and I’m going to stand on all 10 of my toes until I get justice,” Tross said. She added  that according to her daughter, Rausch had made fun of her weight, leading her to stop eating breakfast. She said she was considering legal action against him and the district.

At a minimum, Tross and Ramos said they want to ensure that Rausch never teaches again. That would require the district to begin termination proceedings, known in New York as 3020-a proceedings.

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There was no response Friday afternoon at phone numbers listed in Rausch’s name. Rochester Teachers Association President Adam Urbanski said he could not comment.

In the Rochester area and elsewhere, there has been a steady drip of reports of racist and insensitive classroom lessons, including erroneous and offensive portrayals of slavery.

School Board President Cynthia Elliott, who has been sharply critical of the district’s mostly white teaching corps in relation to its mostly nonwhite student body, said she was withholding judgment until the allegation is investigated.

“If that’s what happened, it’s problematic, it’s troubling and it shouldn’t be going on,” she said. “I don’t know why a person would want to teach Black and brown students in the city of Rochester if they feel like that.”