"Threats" over controversial field trip put Rock Hill school on lockdown

Ebenezer Avenue Elementary School in Rock Hill was placed on lockdown for around an hour Friday after the school received "threatening phone calls," according to the school's Facebook page.

The unnamed threat was over a controversial field trip, FOX 46 first reported Wednesday, involving students picking cotton and singing slave songs, according to a source with knowledge of the lockdown.

Jessica Blanchard called FOX 46 in a panic Friday. Her 10-year-old son's school was on lockdown. District officials say it was "preventative" after the school received "threatening phone calls" that a source also described as "harassing."

"Out of an abundance of caution, EBES is currently under a preventive lockdown due to an anonymous threat to the school," read a statement on the school's Facebook page. 

It's unclear what the threat was but a source confirms it was made in response to a FOX 46 report

The threat comes two days after Blanchard and her son, Jamari, first spoke out about the controversial field trip. Blanchard told FOX 46 she was upset the trip included picking cotton as a "game" and the singing of a slave song - not to teach slavery or Black History Month - but, rather, the Great Depression.

An hour later, the district wrote on its Facebook page that the lockdown was lifted.

"Everyone is safe and sound," a post read. "Thanks to our wonderful district staff and Rock Hill police for their help."

After FOX 46's story aired, York County Councilman William "Bump" Roddey said the field trip "comes off as offensive to the commnity."

"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 Roddey. "I wouldn't sign a petition slip if I knew my son would be picking cotton singing a slave song."

As a result of FOX 46's reort, a top district official called Blanchard to apologize and pledged to work with her to change the program.

Online Reaction Mixed

Reaction to the field trip was mixed online. Some adults, who went on the field trip as kids, had mixed opinions. Most, in hindsight, felt the trip was inappropriate.

"It was fun as a child but now looking back I wouldn't want my child doing this either," one woman wrote on Facebook. "I'm lowkey mad they had me out there doing that. Wrong AF." 

"It's called education people," one person wrote on Twitter, defending the field trip. "Quit trying to hide life from your children."

"My grandfather dropped out of school and picked cotton with his family when he was 10 years old," another man wrote on Twitter, also defending the trip. "It was the Great Depression. It was a common thing. I think maybe people are looking for controversy here."

"This is teaching kids racism," disagreed someone else. "And so not right!"

"Terribly Wrong"

South Carolina State Rep. John King (D-Rock Hill) responded to FOX 46's report by calling the field trip "insensitive" and "terribly wrong."

"What happened on this field trip was insensitive and inaccurate. The true history of slavery and sharecropping is one of violence and oppression, it is a history that needs to be taught with appropriate weight. Something has gone terribly wrong when slavery is treated as a 'game,' when children leave a field trip with the impression that a mockery can be made of their ancestors' oppression. When we portray a sugar-coated version of history, one of happily picking cotton and singing songs, then we miss an opportunity to teach the truth."

District's New Statement

The Carroll School field trip experiecne is a unique learning opportunity for all 5th 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 parent field permission slip form for parents to complete in order for their child to participate.

The song that is sung by the studens as they participte in picking cotton, as it was done in the Great Depression 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 exprience as an African-American farmer picking cotton and making money for 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 during the activity to make sure that it is udnerstood 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.