A school in Virginia has apologized for a “culturally insensitive” activity about the Underground Railroad held during a physical education class.
Students in third, fourth and fifth grades at Madison’s Trust Elementary School in Ashburn, Va., pretended to be slaves while participating in an obstacle course representing the Underground Railroad, according to the Loudoun Times-Mirror.
Michelle Thomas, president of the Loudoun County chapter of the NAACP, told the Times-Mirror an African-American child in the class was designated a slave during the activity. Thomas told the paper she heard about the activity after hearing complaints from parents.
“Obviously, he’s the only one that’s black, he’s the only one that could have ever been related to someone who used to be a slave, and imagine him carrying that stigma all through school,” Thomas told the Times-Mirror.
The school’s principal, David Stewart, sent a letter to students on Feb. 12 apologizing for the activity, calling it “culturally insensitive.”
“This is contradictory to our overall goals of empathy, affirmation, and creating a culturally responsive learning environment for all,” said Stewart, according to a copy of the letter obtained by USA TODAY.
In the letter, Stewart said the Underground Railroad lesson will be retaught “with an appropriate and respectful context.”
The lesson was meant to be a cooperative exercise where students worked together to move through six stations representing parts of the Underground Railroad, said Wayde Byard, public information officer with Loudoun County Public Schools.
Byard told USA TODAY the school is working with the local NAACP to ensure their curriculum is more “culturally attuned.”
“We still have some work to do,” he said.
Follow Brett Molina on Twitter: @brettmolina23.