School worker quits after telling students they’re lucky they weren’t ‘picking cotton’


A North Clackamas School District employee has resigned following an investigation into “inappropriate racialized comments” made last week, the district confirmed Tuesday.

A district spokesperson said an instructional assistant did make references to slave and manual labor during lunch supervision at Linwood Elementary School in Milwaukie on May 31.

Syreeta Spencer, the mother of a fifth-grader at the elementary school, said the employee reprimanded a group of students, which Spencer described as mostly students of color, for being too loud during lunch.

The employee told the students she would record their misbehavior and show it to parents at graduation, Spencer said. The situation escalated to the employee telling students they were lucky they weren’t “picking cotton and cleaning or painting a house.”

“I was shocked,” Spencer said. “I sure wasn’t expecting her to say a person that is above them, that is supposed to look after them, said that. I was super upset and angry.”

District officials said the employee was put on leave June 5, several days after the incident. The investigation concluded two days later with the employee’s resignation.

“We know and understand that the impact of words spoken can be hurtful for our students and that was the case in this situation,” district officials said in a statement that did not name the employee. “We deeply regret this impact and will continue to work with our students and school community to make sure that they are heard and feel supported.”

Spencer said her daughter, who is biracial, and others were upset by the comments. The school is hosting a group conversation for students to share experiences and ask questions related to minority issues, she said. She thinks that solution better addresses the underlying issue than simply letting families know that an employee no longer works for the district.

“It’s so much deeper than that,” Spencer said. “I was hoping this would bring up dialogue and some empathy. I don’t know why [the employee] felt comfortable saying that in the first place.”

— McKenna Ross

mross@oregonian.com

503-221-5776; @mckenna_ross_

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