Elementary school apologizes for 'culturally insensitive' gym lesson instructing students to act as slaves

Students at <span>Madison’s Trust Elementary School were told to pretend to be part of the Underground Railroad.</span> (Photo: Florian Gaertner/Photothek via Getty Images)
Students at Madison’s Trust Elementary School were told to pretend to be part of the Underground Railroad. (Photo: Florian Gaertner/Photothek via Getty Images)

A Virginia elementary school has apologized to parents after students were instructed in a gym activity to pretend to be slaves.

When third graders at Madison’s Trust Elementary School were taught about the Underground Railroad during Black History Month, they were asked to participate in a gym exercise that had them act as slaves using the underground network to reach freedom. Loudoun County Public School spokesman Wayde Byard told the New York Post that students had to overcome a physical barrier during the lesson.

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The school’s principal apologized after 10 families reportedly complained about the activity, and the superintendent later issued a statement.

“Recently, a lesson on the Underground Railroad at Madison’s Trust Elementary School came to
light as inappropriate and culturally insensitive,” Loudoun County Public Schools Superintendent Eric Williams said in a statement provided to Yahoo Lifestyle. “As a result, Madison’s Trust administrators and division leaders have worked together, with support from the Loudoun Freedom Center, to
specifically address the issue and reteach the intended learning outcomes.”

Michelle Thomas, president of the the Loudoun NAACP chapter, told local news station NBC Washington that three teachers came up with the activity with the oversight of an administrator.

“It’s awful,” Thomas said. “It’s really insulting. It makes me feel unsafe because I have kids in Loudoun County Public Schools.” She added that she has met with principal David Stewart to find a way to “remedy this racist act.”

Williams’s statement said the school district acknowledges “that this incident at Madison’s Trust is a symptom of a broader issue,” is working to hire more diverse teachers and is creating an equity and cultural competence specialist position to organize cultural competence and
implicit bias training for all teachers and administrators.

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