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February 27, 2019

School Sorry for Gym Class Exercise Where Students Acted like Slaves in the Underground Railroad

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A gym class that took place at a Virginia elementary school caused outrage among parents, as the kids were involved in an exercise where they had to act like slaves going through the Underground Railroad during Black History Month.

Kids from the third, fourth and fifth grades at Madison’s Trust Elementary School in Brambleton, Virginia, were instructed to play a “game” on their physical education class earlier this month, as part of a lesson about the Underground Railroad.

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They had to pretend to be runaway slaves while going through an obstacle course representing the railroad that was used to help African-American slaves escape from plantations in the 19th century.

The school's principal, David Stewart, has apologized for the “culturally insensitive” incident and sent a letter to parents vowing to be careful in the future to avoid similar activities from taking place.

David Stewart, the school's principal, sent a letter to parents apologizing for the incident. | Source: NBC News

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“The lesson was culturally insensitive to our students and families. I extend my sincerest apology to our students and school community,” he said. “This incident has revealed a need for us to further explore how we can ensure this will never happen again.”

And added:

“The next step for us as a school involves the formation of an equity/culturally responsive team which will be comprised of school personnel and parent representatives.”

Loudoun NAACP Chapter President Michelle Thomas is working closely with the school now. | Source: NBC News

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Loudoun County Public Schools spokesperson Wayde B. Byard said that although the students had the opportunity to choose to be a leader of their groups, they were never told to “act as slaves.” However, Loudoun NAACP Chapter President Michelle Thomas said she received several complaints from parents about the activity.

“Loudoun County has a history of miseducating kids, number one, and perpetrating racist things amongst our students. This is not the first one. This is the first one of many. This is the most egregious, and the timing is incredible,” Thomas said.

Madison's Trust Elementary School Principal David Stewart. | Source: Loudoun County Public Schools / Via lcps.org

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According to Wayde Byard, Loudoun schools' Public Information Officer, a local African-American history group called Loudoun Freedom Center has been helping to revise the school's curriculum as well as helping with projects.

Principal Stewart also mentioned that the lesson would be “re-taught” with a more respectful context where all the students can learn in an appropriate environment.

The school scandal is just among many other racially charged incidents that have shaken up Virginia in the past months.

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However, the most shocking one was Gov. Ralph Northam making headlines after photos from his medical school yearbook were unearthed to show a man wearing blackface and another a KKK robe. There was an uproar and calls for his resignation within hours of the photo surfaced online.

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Soon after, Northam apologized for appearing in the “clearly racist and offensive” photograph. “I am deeply sorry for the decision I made to appear as I did in this photo and for the hurt, that decision caused then and now,” he said, although he did not elaborate on which costume he was wearing in the picture.

But the next day, he retracted his previous statement. “I believe now and then that I am not either of the people in this photo,” said the governor. “This was not me in that picture. That was not Ralph Northam.”

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To add salt to the wound, Northam tried to right his wrongs and ended up digging his metaphorical even further by referring to the first Africans as "indentured servants."

In a sit-down interview with CBS on Sunday, the show host raised the topic of his scandal and Northam's reaction to it so far. After reaffirming his determination to stay in office, he went on to say:

"We are now at the 400-year anniversary — just 90 miles from here in 1619. The first indentured servants from Africa landed on our shores in Old Point Comfort, what we call now Fort Monroe."

CBS News host, Gayle King, cut him off at that point and subtly inserted "also known as slavery."

Despite the backlash he received, Northam is still in the office. 

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