NAACP wants apology over controversial Rock Hill field trip, district pledges changes

The Rock Hill chapter of the NAACP wants an apology and change after a controversial field trip. 

"I was shocked," said chapter president Dorene Boular. "And the first word that came out was 'outrageous.'"

FOX 46 first reported about cell phone footage that showed South Carolina fifth graders picking cotton as a game and singing what some say sounds like a slave song.

Boular watched the report. She wants the district to implement sensitivity training and apologize.

"The community deserves an apology," said Boular, in an interview with FOX 46. "Have you listened to the words? Anybody would be appalled."

District officials call the field trip living history, meant to teach the Great Depression. There is no mention of slaves being forced to pick cotton or of Black History Month. 

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"When something is offensive to the community, than I think that should be considered," said Boular. 
"They're not taught about the violence of slavery, the dehumanizing, what people suffered through."

South Carolina Rep. John King (D-Rock Hill) also weighed in after watching FOX 46's story. 

"Something has gone terribly wrong when slavery is treated as a 'game,'" he said in a statement. "When children leave a field trip with the impression that a mockery can be made of their ancestors' oppression."

After Jessica Blanchard's public complaint to FOX 46 and the district, she said Chief Academic Officer, Dr. John Jones, personally apologized, meeting with her and another parent for an hour on Monday.

"He said that we're going to work on changing the curriculum so it's not offensive to anyone," Blanchard told FOX 46 after the meeting. "I walked away feel ecstatic. Everything was great. They heard me. That's what I wanted. I wanted my voice heard and I felt like that's what they did."

The NAACP is scheduled to have a meeting Tuesday with Rock Hill Schools officials to discuss changes to the field trip.

NAACP Statement:

"The Rock Hill Branch NAACP is deeply troubled and concerned by the insensitivity of the part of Rock Hill School District #3, its officials, teachers and the Carroll School who obviously did not consider the impact of teaching fifth graders to sing Negro slave songs while picking cotton on a recent field trip to teach the children about the Great Depression.

This matter brings to light the lack of foresight those who deem themselves educators of our children, the inadequacy they have when it comes to appropriately identifying potential racially insensitive activities within our school system. 

The Legal Redress Committee of the Rock Hill Branch NAACP is looking to have a meeting with Rock Hill School District #3 next week to discuss an apology to students and parents, as well as a move for sensitivity training for all district instructors and that all field trips clearly define the activities the children will be subject to."

Rock Hill School Statement

"The Carroll School field experience is a unique learning opportunity for all fifth grade students in Rock Hill Schools' elementary schools. Students have been visiting the Carroll School for the past fifteen years as a part of studying the Great Depression in the school curriculum. Please see the attached field trip permission form for parents to complete in order for their child to participate. 

[Reporter's Note: The permission slip says: "To understand what life would have been like for students at that school during the Great Depression Era, students will be partcipating in hands-on activities with sewing, planting a garden, picking cotton and food preservation." There no mention of children singing songs with the lyrics: "I like it when you pick like that, I like it when fill your sack, I like it when you don't talk back, Make money for me. Make money for me."]

The song that is sung by the students as they participate in picking cotton, as it was done in the Great Depresison time period, was originally written by an African-American instructor who currently works with students at the Carroll School. He did not intend it to sound like, or in any way be a "slave song" as it has been characterized. The lyrics came from his experience as an African-American farmer picking cotton and making moneyfor his family in the Great Depression time period. 

The school district is currently working with the parent and The Carroll School instructors to review the farming activity and any associated songs sung during the activity to make sure that it is understood that in no way is the activity or any singing tied to slavery or singing "slave songs."

Rock Hill Schools is committed to listening to its parents and community stakeholders."