Teacher didn’t mean to offend, having kids act like slaves, school says
TOMS RIVER — The teacher who taught a lesson on slavery that involved students pretending to be slaves did not intend to offend his students with the lesson, according to a school district investigation.
The Asbury Park Press and News 12 New Jersey had reported on the incident, citing a social media post by a student who claimed Toms River Intermediate East history teacher Lawrence Cuneo made "whipping" and "cracking noises" during the lesson, had students lay on the floor to recreate the experience of being on a slave ship, and kicked students during the lesson a week ago.
Cuneo, who is also the mayor of Pine Beach, said in an email to New Jersey 101.5 the intent of the lesson was to demonstrate how "degrading and despicable the institution of slavery was in our history."
In a statement, Toms River Regional School District spokesman Michael Kenny said the district's investigation determined it was not Cuneo’s intent to offend students but to make an "appalling but nevertheless real facet of our nation's history more fully resonate with students."
Kenny said that district leaders, curriculum directors and teachers, including Cuneo, are "working together to revisit the delivery of instruction to ensure it meets the needs, and accounts for the sensitivities, of all students."
Kenny would not discuss Cuneo's status with the district citing personnel matters as being confidential. He has taught in the district for 18 years, according to public records.
Cuneo did not immediately return a message on Thursday evening.
When asked earlier to give his own description of the lesson, Cuneo referred to a story in the Toms River Patch with students discussing the class. Students and parents told Patch that the description of the activity posted on social media was inaccurate. They said the lesson was discussed beforehand and participation was voluntary.
Lisa Nuernberg told Patch her daughter was in the class, and said no one was kicked by Cuneo and the exercise did not promote racism.
Madison Chiappetta, told Patch she had Cuneo last year when the lesson was presented and said "in no way shape or form was it poking fun at slavery or depicting it positively."
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