After insensitive history lesson, apology and discussion on racism in Loudoun Co. schools

ASHBURN, Va. — An insensitive black history lesson at an Ashburn school, led to discussion before and during Tuesday evening’s Loudoun County School Board meeting.

The lesson happened earlier this month at Madison’s Trust Elementary School, where some students were asked to run through an obstacle course meant to represent the underground railroad.

Superintendent Eric Williams repeated what was announced in a statement last week, that changes were underway to address racism in the school system.

“I … want to apologize to the broader community for the specific lesson that occurred at Madison’s Trust, but more importantly, for the inequities that continue to exist,” Williams said.

“At the end of the day however, an apology is just words. We need to focus on collaborative action to yield results.”

Pastor Michelle Thomas is president of the Loudoun County NAACP.

“African Americans still have challenges with curriculum content — racist curriculum content. That is how we get to playing a runaway slave game,” she said.

The NAACP, which held a news conference before the meeting, is demanding immediate action by the schools to end racism and address racial inequality.

Thomas said it’s “premature” to call for the superintendent to resign, but former county NAACP President Phillip Thompson made it clear he wants Williams to go.

During the meeting’s public comment period, Thompson said: “It’s time for … this to land on Dr. Williams’ lap. And although we’ve got a board of white people that are going to make the decision on his job for right now, the next election, we’re going to try to get some people in there to hold you accountable — you!”

There were other compelling comments from the public.

“I’m coming to you today as the mother of a brilliant, gifted and talented 8-year-old who is phenomenal, but experiences consistent microaggressions by teachers and administrators in regards to her hair (and) content of the curriculum or activities,” said Shirell Gordon.

“The leaders of our state have admitted to using blackface in the ’80s, and … my Georgia college friends who used to call me a Yankee, are calling me asking what’s going on in Virginia. I challenge the board to invite students, parents, to share their stories of marginalization, discrimination and exclusion and believe them,” said Adrienne Sims.

“Teach black history as Virginia history throughout the year, instead of only focusing on the most painful parts of our shared history, which need to be learned to increase sensitivity so we don’t have those people doing this stuff at the head of our government,” Sims said.

Michelle Basch

Michelle Basch is a reporter and anchor at WTOP.

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