Loudoun principal apologizes for ‘culturally insensitive’ lesson on slavery

WASHINGTON — A Loudoun County elementary school principal has sent a letter home to parents, apologizing for a “culturally insensitive” Black History exercise that trivialized slavery.

Last week, students in a physical education class for students in grades 3 through 5 at Madison’s Trust Elementary School, in Ashburn, were told about the Underground Railroad.

Students broke into groups and were instructed to work together through an obstacle course representing the network of secret routes established during the early to mid-19th century, to help slaves get to free states.

“The lesson was culturally insensitive to our students and families,” wrote Principal David Stewart. “I extend my sincerest apology to our students and school community.”

Stewart said the activity “is contradictory to our overall goals of empathy, affirmation, and creating a culturally responsive learning environment for all.”

Pastor Michelle Thomas, president of the Loudoun NAACP, was incredulous.

“It’s startling and appalling that in 2019 there is the overall racial insensitivity, cultural incompetence, and poor judgment that caused these teachers to choose and carry out an exercise that’s so steeped in racism,” Thomas told WTOP.

Stewart said the lesson of the Underground Railroad was obscured.

“We will also teach the students the importance of recognizing the need to take ownership when mistakes are made and develop a plan to right a wrong,” said Stewart, who said the history of the Underground Railroad is being retaught Friday “within an appropriate and respectful context.”

Stewart said the school will form a group comprising “school personnel and parent representatives” to try to ensure that the situation will not be repeated.

Neal Augenstein

Neal Augenstein has been a reporter at WTOP since 1997. Through the years, Neal has covered many of the crimes and trials that have gripped the region. Neal's been pleased to receive awards over the years for hard news, feature reporting, use of sound and sports.

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