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NJ teacher’s slavery lesson allegedly included whip sound, kicking

TOMS RIVER, N.J. – Pine Beach Mayor Lawrence Cuneo, who is also an eighth grade social studies teacher, told a New Jersey radio station Wednesday that he was demonstrating a “degrading and despicable” institution in American history when he made students pretend to be slaves.

In an email to New Jersey 101.5, Cuneo, 59, defended the lesson but expressed regret that anyone may have been offended.

“Slavery existed within our country and the lessons learned, even if uncomfortable, need to be told,” Cuneo said. “At no time was my intention to harm the sensitivities of any student. If this lesson did that, I apologize to those affected.” 

In a social media post, a student complained that classmates were forced to “pick cotton and lay” on a dirty floor while “pretending we were slaves.”

As the students acted out the scene, Cuneo made a “cracking” whip noise over the students and kicked their feet, according to the social media post.

A spokesman for the Toms River Regional School District said the incident is under investigation.

“As we comb through and further investigate the details of the alleged incident, we are keeping in mind that our curriculum has evolved to include more hands-on, authentic activities,” said Michael Kenny, the district spokesman. “It seems initially clear that there was no ill intent but that better judgment should have been used with regard to the alleged instructional methods, particularly as it pertains to recognizing the sensitivities of all students.”

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