Virginia mom says white students told her Asian American son to sit at 'segregated' table

An after-school game took a troubling turn last week at Lyles Crouch Traditional Academy in Alexandria, Virginia.

Mom Kathryn Kelley alleges a group of white students told her fifth grade son, who is half Asian, that he couldn’t sit with them.

“[They were] saying that mixed race kids had to sit at a table that was away from the white kids, and then African American and Black kids had to sit even further,” Kelley told NBC Washington. “They said that they were segregated and that they couldn’t play with the white kids.”

Kelley claims some students also teased the students of color, based on race and class.

“It was, of course, very difficult. It was confusing. He was trying to understand what was going on while also trying to stand up for his friends and trying to interrupt the situation but not really knowing what to do,” Kelley said.

NBC Washington obtained a letter the school’s principal sent to parents Friday, acknowledging an “inappropriate game” as part of a “role play of a social studies lesson,” which caused some students to feel uncomfortable.

The letter said, “Students often want to discuss troubling topics from class in a variety of ways, some of which may cause offense. This is certainly a challenge in educating our students and one that we must be keenly aware of when difficult topics are presented.”

Kelley feels there are steps that should have been taken.

“When kids are learning these things, like about segregation, learning about the history of white supremacy in the U.S. — they have to learn that, they need to learn that, but it’s not a game, and they need to learn the seriousness of these things.”

In the letter to families, the school’s principal said she plans to work with her team to incorporate lessons into the curriculum about thinking before you speak and act. The principal also said the school community has a collective responsibility to make sure all students feel valued and respected.

Greg Carr, an Afro American studies professor at Howard University, said, “I think we do it by perhaps starting with what children know.”

Carr said lessons on inclusion can be simple, such as asking kids how they feel when they see TV characters who look like them. He also said guest speakers can be helpful.

“So a lesson on segregation could incorporate elders who lived through that period,” Carr said. “You know the implications of it now, from an elder who can tell you how much it hurt to be segregated.”

It is not yet clear whether any students involved in the game faced discipline. The principal, in her letter to parents, said she could not say.

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