School employee quits after 'cotton picking' comments to pupils

14 June 2019 - 06:57 By afp
File photo.
File photo.
Image: iStock

A staff member at a school in the US state of Oregon has resigned following an uproar over racist comments to a group of students who were told they were lucky they weren't "picking cotton."

The unidentified employee at Linwood Elementary School in Milwaukie, south of Portland, reportedly made the offensive comments on May 31 while scolding a group of pupils, described as mostly students of colour, who were acting up during lunch break.

One of the students, Jasmyn Spencer, told local media that the employee -- who was supervising lunch in the cafeteria -- first threatened to record their misbehavior and show it to parents at graduation.

The incident then took on racial overtones, Jasmyn told KPTV.

"She said that you're lucky I'm not making you guys pick cotton and clean my house and everybody just got extremely mad about that," Jasmyn said.

Jasmyn's mother, Syreeta Spencer, said she was outraged on hearing about the exchange and had complained to the school district, which issued a statement on Thursday denouncing the staff member's actions and announcing her resignation.

"We know and understand that the impact of words can be hurtful for our students and that was the case in this situation," the statement said. "We deeply regret this and have continued to meet with our students to make sure that they are heard and feel supported."

The employee also issued an apology, saying she was deeply sorry for her comments.

"There simply isn't an excuse for my language, and I acknowledge what I said was hurtful and offensive," she wrote. "Additionally, I realize what I said was a harsh lesson for young children on the realities of racism, which unfairly damages individuals, communities, and our larger society."