ROCK HILL, S.C. (FOX 46 CHARLOTTE) - A York County councilman says a Rock Hill Schools district-mandated field trip that involves picking cotton while singing slave songs "comes off as offensive to the community" and should be changed.
"I think the song singing really tips the scale when it comes to the concern of what are we really embedding in our young men and women?," asked Councilman William "Bump" Roddey. "I wouldn't sign a petition slip if I knew my son would be picking cotton singing a slave song."
Roddey's son attended the same field trip where students are led to sing: "I like it when you pick like that. I like it when you fill your sack. I like it when you don't talk back. Make money for me."
He is asking the district to remove that portion of the field trip.
"Hands on learning is a good thing," he said. "But we need to keep it in the proper context so it doesn't offend any parents."
Jessica Blanchard was among several parents who were offended.
"My ancestors picked cotton," she said. "Why would I want my son to pick cotton and think it's fun?"
Her son said picking cotton became a game. Whoever picked the least had to hold a big sack that said "Big Mama." The purpose, district officials say, is to educate fifth grade students - not on slavery or Black History Month - but the Great Depression.
Before FOX 46 first reported on the field trip, Rock Hill Schools spokesman Mychal Frost tried to stop us from airing the story. He said it was not newsworthy and blamed Blanchard for not fully reading a permission slip that included "cotton picking" but made no mention of singing slave songs.
Frost stopped our interview when FOX 46 asked why there is no mention of the history of slaves being forced to pick cotton.
"Matt that is not the topic of this interview. The interview is about the Great Depression," said Frost, putting his hand over the camera. "We're not going to go off-script, do you understand?"
"This interview's over," he said moments later. "You're done."
The district has now changed its tune. Afterwards, a top official called Blanchard to apologize. Chief Academic and Accountability Officer Dr. John Jones sent FOX 46 an email saying the district will conduct a full review of the field trip. He pledged to come up with a plan that will address any concerns.
"He said he felt it was inappropriate as well," said Blanchard, describing the conversation with Dr. Jones. "He apologized saying it wasn't supposed to be offensive and he was going to work to better the program so that it's not offensive going forward."
"It makes me feel great," she added. "It makes me feel like my voice was heard."
Other parents are also voicing their concerns and speaking out. Erica Poplus had no idea her 11-year-old daughter had to sing slave songs until she watched the video on FOX 46.
"I thought, 'Wow that's sad,' she said. "They have children out here mocking a sensitive topic."
Poplus says her daughter was "very upset" by the experience.
"I'm so grateful that you guys took my concerns and you helped me be able to voice my opinions to bring about change," said Blanchard.
Rock Hill Schools Statements
"I did reach out to the parent to confirm our commitment to hearing her voice and examining specific areas of the field trip experience to review. I am still in the process of engaging in initial conversation with the parent and am gathering communication so as to understand the full scope of what has led to these concerns....I am willing to share at some point how we will respond in collaboration with the Carroll School and the school district in addressing the needs presented. We aim to complete this in a timely manner. I will be glad to speak with you in the near future once I have met with the parent, identified all aspects of the concerns, and develop a plan to address." -Dr. John Jones, Rock Hill Schools Chief Academic and Accountability Officer
"We have reached out and are in communication with the parent. We take our partnerships with parents and community stakeholders seriously and remain open to feedback." -Aaron Sheffield, District Spokesman