A staff member at an Oregon elementary school has resigned after complaints that she told a group of students that they were lucky she didn’t make them “pick cotton.”
The employee, who has not been identified, reportedly made the comments to a group of 5th graders on May 31 during lunch at Linwood Elementary School in Milwaukie, which is just outside Portland.
Parent Syreeta Spencer complained to the school when she found out what happened. CNN has not been able to reach Spencer, but she talked to affiliate KPTV last week.
“It would be different if she cussed at them or yelled at them. Of course, that’s not appropriate, but to bring up picking cotton to a group of mostly brown and black kids is definitely inappropriate,” Spencer said. “It was a very insensitive and mean comment to say.”
Her daughter Jasmyn told KPTV that the staff member told her and her classmates that they couldn’t go outside because they were being too loud and then threatened to record them misbehaving so she could show it to their parents.
“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. “It hurt me inside.”
In a statement released on Thursday, the North Clackamas School District said that the school’s acting principal met with students after they reported the racist comments and the employee was placed on leave pending an investigation.
The employee resigned before the investigation was completed, the district said.
“We know and understand that the impact of words can be hurtful for our students and that was the case in this situation. We deeply regret this and have continued to meet with our students to make sure that they are heard and feel supported,” they wrote.
“In this case, we conducted a thorough and expedient investigation and are continuing work to repair the harm done to our students and families.”
The district also released a statement of apology from the employee:
“This letter is to let you know how deeply sorry I am for the hurtful and unnecessary statement I made last week. There simply isn’t an excuse for my language, and I acknowledge what I said was hurtful and offensive. I have disappointed myself, and I know I have disappointed you by failing to create a school atmosphere that embraces all students regardless of their race or other demographics,” the staff member 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. I know I betrayed your trust and failed to conduct myself in a way aligned with your expectations, the expectations of North Clackamas Schools, to say nothing of betraying my own integrity. I wish I could take back what I said, but I cannot. Therefore, I have resigned from my position effective today in the hope that my departure can begin healing the hurt my regrettable language caused.”
The school district stressed its strong stance on equity and said it is “committed to an inclusive environment that honors each student’s identity and provides safety, respect, and care in each of our spaces.”