Substitute teacher allegedly forced black middle schooler to pick cotton with his nose during game

Sidney Rousey, who is a black eighth-grade student at Gunston Middle School, claims that his substitute teacher forced him to play a “racist” classroom game that involved “picking cotton” with his nose last week.

He is the only black student in his class and claims he was pressured into participating in the activity.

Keisha Kirkland, Rousey’s mother, was not amused. She marched over to the school and demanded to know why the substitute teacher conducted herself in such a manner. The outraged mother insisted that it was “insensitive.”

Rousey spoke with ABC 7 News and told the media outlet that he “didn’t want to play the game” but “didn’t want to get in trouble” either.

“We’re supposed to put the Vaseline on our nose and pick cotton,” he recounted. The activity is known as “nosedive” which came from an NBC game show called “Minute to Win It.” The goal of the game was evidently to transfer cotton balls from one bowl to another using your nose which was covered with petroleum jelly.

“I remember she asked for volunteers, and then everybody looked at me in the class. [The teacher] was looking at me and forcing me to go up there to play the game. I didn’t really want to, but I didn’t want to get in trouble with the teacher. So, I went up there to play the game,” Rousey claimed.

His mother remarked that she “didn’t know what emotion to bring first” when she put the school administration on the spot over the activity. Kirkland said the game “hurt” her son’s feelings.

“I didn’t know whether to be hurt, upset, angry, mad. It was a whole bunch of feelings,” she stated. “I came right back to the school the same day, spoke with the counselor, the teacher, separately.”

“I spoke with the teacher first, and the teacher was not willing to accept the wrongness, she wasn’t willing to accept the insensitive [nature] of the situation. She just wasn’t accepting [of] his feelings and how he was hurt, she just wanted me to know they were having a whole lot of fun,” the enraged mother noted.

Kirkland said that they justified the activity because it was on a list of acceptable games approved by the school district.

Rousey says that after his mother spoke with the substitute teacher she chastised him in front of the class.

“She shut the door and she started, I would say, attacking me, saying, ‘Am I a racist?‘” Rousey told ABC 7 News regarding the substitute teacher.

“She asked him in front of the class, ‘Sidney, am I a racist?'” Kirkland charged.

Following the incident, Rousey was removed from the class. He is now taking it with a guidance counselor.

“They immediately took him out of the class, they felt our pain, they were hurting for us,” Kirkland said, referring to the school authorities. “That’s what I needed, that’s what I needed for my son, I needed him to understand as a village, we all stand together as one. He didn’t get that on Wednesday [when the incident took place].”

“I knew a little bit about cotton and black people,” Rousey declared. “At the time, I knew about it, but in the moment it’s like I didn’t know. Now that I realize it, it made me feel even worse for playing the game. I knew this month was Black History Month, and I felt like people don’t really care about our history. It makes me sad this happened to me [during] this month.”

“We have a long way to go, we have a very long way to go,” his mother said. “I don’t think it will be over, I never would have thought in a million years that I would have had to be standing here. You don’t judge a book by its cover and for me to teach them this and this happens to him, it knocks down everything I try to carve out for all of my children. That hurts.”

Arlington Public Schools issued a statement to ABC 7 News asserting that the “team-building” activity was “optional.”

“The activity, called ‘nosedive,’ was part of a list of optional team-building activities for 8th-grade Gunston students to foster collaboration. Gunston administrators held a meeting with the student and parent to discuss their concerns and are investigating what occurred and how this activity was presented to students by the staff member,” the statement read.

The investigation is ongoing. Gunston Middle School is committed to fostering a learning environment that is inclusive, safe, and supportive for all, and does not tolerate discrimination of any kind,” it continued in boilerplate fashion.

“Other students participated. The activity featured a player from each team taking turns,” district spokesperson Frank Bellavia contended in the statement. “Using only their nose, the players were challenged to move the cotton balls one at a time from one end of the table to a bowl at the other end of the table. The object was [to] see who could move the most cotton balls.”

Bellavia sent another statement out on Tuesday morning.

“The activity was not part of a division-wide approved list. Furthermore, APS does not support these activities and will be promptly revisiting and reviewing them. The school will take necessary and appropriate actions to address this incident,” he said.

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