Rock Hill school district makes changes to field trip after parent’s complaint

Carroll School in Rock Hill was built in 1929 and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Carroll School in Rock Hill was built in 1929 and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Rock Hill school district

Fifth-grade students picked cotton during a Rock Hill school field trip last month, prompting a parent to complain and community leaders to condemn that particular lesson.

Students will no longer pick cotton during their trip to the Carroll School, according to a message from the Rock Hill school district.

“In light of recent concerns regarding parts of the Carroll School field experience, Rock Hill Schools has made some changes to the program that will go into effect immediately,” reads the message. “Students will no longer participate in picking cotton as part of the experience. Additionally, the song that was written and sung by an instructor based on his life experiences as an African American during the Great Depression era will no longer be performed.”

The Carroll School, now a place where Rock Hill fifth graders receive hands-on history lessons, was built in 1929. The school is one of more than 5,300 buildings in 15 states that was built by and for African-Americans. Students have been visiting the school for 15 years.

“The District regrets that what was intended to be an educational opportunity where Carroll School alumni could share some of their life experiences with elementary students has caused other members of our community to feel offended or hurt,” reads the district’s message.

“The District is continuing to evaluate this matter and has sought, and will continue to seek, the input of our stakeholders, as we look for ways to honor the history of the Carroll School and its former students in ways that appropriately honor the legacy of this important part of our community and history.”

The American Civil Liberties Union last week released a statement condemning the lesson.

“This activity was supposedly to educate the children about the history of slavery, but instead cheapened a horrific time in America’s history,” reads the ACLU statement. “Rock Hill School District should consider the optics of such a learning experience, and that this type of curriculum does not convey the seriousness and reality of slavery in America.”

Rock Hill school district leaders said the lesson was about the Great Depression, not slavery.

“The Carroll School field experience is a unique learning opportunity for all fifth grade students in Rock Hill Schools’ elementary schools,” reads a statement sent last week from Aaron Sheffield, spokesperson with the district. “Students have been visiting the Carroll School for the past fifteen years as a part of studying the Great Depression in the school curriculum.”

The district also has updated the permission slip parents must sign for their students to attend the Carroll School field trip.

“The form has been revised to include more details regarding the activities,” reads the message to parents. “As was previously the case, any parents that object to their child’s participation in the Carroll School experience can opt out of the trip or any aspect of the trip that they find objectionable.”

‘Not about slavery’

Some parents and former Rock Hill students say the trip has been an engaging learning activity that taught them an important lesson.

Giovanni Gibbs, 21, was a fifth grader at Oakdale Elementary School in 2008. She is now studying African-American studies at Clemson University.

Gibbs, who is African-American, said she grew up with a father who taught history. Gibbs said she remembers the Carroll School trip as a chance to learn about sharecropping.

“Our teachers explained to us it was about the Great Depression,” Gibbs said. “The Carroll School trip is not supposed to be representative of slavery from my experience. It is the representation of the life of the black sharecropping farmer in the deep south in the 1930s.”

Gibbs said the current racial climate in America may lead some to see certain activities in a different light than they are meant.

“The slavery perception is coming from the parents,” she said. “African-Americans are trying to use it to put it towards a direction it is not.”

Several Rock Hill residents posted messages on Facebook Tuesday against the district’s decision and in support of the trip.

Related stories from Rock Hill Herald

Amanda Harris covers issues related to children and families in York, Chester and Lancaster County for The Herald. Amanda works with local schools, parents and community members to address important topics such as school security, mental health and the opioid epidemic. She graduated from Winthrop University.

Support my work with a digital subscription