An investigation has officially been opened after an eighth-grade student, revealed that a New Jersey teacher allegedly kicked students and made whip-cracking noises during a history lesson about United States slavery. Toms River social studies teacher, Lawrence Cuneo, who also holds a local political office seat as the mayor of Pine Beach, also allegedly had students reenact the process of picking cotton, while they lay on the floor and he kicked at their feet pretending to be a plantation overseer.
According to the Asbury Park Press, the student took to social media to express his concerns about his teacher's actions writing:
"It's good to be informed about slavery but making us clean and pick cotton and pretending to (whip) us? Are you nuts it's 2020 not 1800 get it right."
In the wake of the investigation, Toms River School District spokesperson, Michael Kenny, released a statement that the situation could have been handled better stating:
"As we comb through and further investigate the details of the alleged incident, we are keeping in mind that our curriculum has evolved to include more hands-on, authentic activities." Kenny continued, "It seems initially clear that there was no ill intent but that better judgment should have been used with regard to the alleged instructional methods, particularly as it pertains to recognizing the sensitivities of all students."
Amidst the controversy, some students and parents have come to the defense of teacher/mayor Cuneo stating that participation in the lesson was 'voluntary.' In an email written by Lawrence Cuneo obtained by WKXW, he intended for his lesson to show how "degrading and despicable the institution of slavery was in our history."
"Slavery existed within our country and the lessons learned, even if uncomfortable, need to be told. At no time was my intention to harm the sensitivities of any student. If this lesson did that, I apologize to those affected."
When questioned on whether or not Mr. Cuneo remained on the job following the accusation, Toms River School District spokesperson, Michael Kenny did not disclose that information saying the issue is 'confidential' and he could not discuss that publicly.
According to enrollment data verified by the New York Daily News, Toms River Intermediate East is a majority white establishment. With educational institutions systematically targeting children of other races, religions, ethnicities, cultures, and more, it's quite possible that this teacher could have overstepped his boundaries as an educator during a topic that is sensitive to some students. Hopefully, Mr. Cuneo's curriculum will be adjusted to adhere to a more beneficial teaching method for his students.