TOMS RIVER – Did a teacher abuse student like slaves, or did social media blow things out of proportion again?
That’s the question that kept people talking on Facebook and Instagram recently after a student said that an Intermediate East teacher’s lesson on slavery included kicking students and making them pick cotton.
After initial tempers flared with people blaming the teacher and the district for this, a backlash returned fire, defending the teacher.
At the center of it is a slavery lesson taught by Lawrence Cuneo, who is also the mayor and a long-time member of the governing body of Pine Beach.
An Instagram post by a student claimed that he had students lie down and he kicked their shoes. Also, the lesson involved having them pick seeds and sticks out of cotton.
In response, social media posts published by The Patch came from parents and former students of Cuneo’s coming to his defense. They said that his lesson was eye-opening and an inventive way to learn the lesson. Students that were in his class with the Instagram student said that he never kicked any students, and that the kicking was made up by the student with the Instagram account. They also said that all participants were volunteers, and that they weren’t forced to partake in the more unusual segment of the lesson.
The news spread quickly. One radio news segment gave one or two sentences on the subject without giving any context.
Some parents were unhappy with the length of time that the district was taking to conduct an investigation into the allegations.
“The district has concluded its investigation into a complaint alleging that an Intermediate East 8th-grade social studies lesson on slavery was ‘degrading’ to students,” reported Michael Kenny, a spokesperson for the district. “We have determined that it was not teacher Lawrence Cuneo’s intention to offend his students; rather, the purpose of the instruction was that this appalling but nevertheless real facet of our nation’s history more fully resonate with students.”
“District leaders, curriculum directors, and teachers, including Mr. Cuneo, are working together to revisit the delivery of instruction to ensure it meets the needs, and accounts for the sensitivities, of all students. The district maintains that all personnel matters remain confidential,” Kenny added.
Cuneo did not return a request for comment as of press time.