The true story behind a racial incident at a Virginia elementary school is really remarkable

If you’re a regular reader then you probably already know something about the pitched battle that has been taking place in Loudoun County between progressives on the school board and upset parents. Last year that conflict became national news when the board tried to put in place a rule about the use of bathrooms by trans students. At the meeting, board members claimed no assaults had taken place in school bathrooms, which was surprising to parent Scott Smith whose daughter had recently been assaulted by a male student wearing a skirt in the women’s bathroom. Scott, quite understandably got upset when another parent mouthed off to him at the board meeting and he was arrested.

Eventually we learned that members of the board knew about the assault the day it happened but apparently didn’t think parents in the district needed to know. We also learned that the same student accused in the incident had been sent to another high school where he allegedly assaulted another teenager. And of course all of this wound up contributing to Glenn Youngkin’s surprising win in the governor’s race.

The whole story also became part of another scandal after the National School Boards Association sent a letter asking the DOJ to investigate angry parents who turned up at school board meetings, using the Patriot Act against them if necessary. Instead of ignoring that idiotic request, AG Merrick Garland rushed out a plan to have the FBI coordinate with school boards nationwide. All of that to say, what has been happening in Loudoun County schools has had a pretty significant state-wide and even nationwide in the past year.

Last week, the Daily Wire‘s Luke Rosiak turned back the clock to an incident that occurred in Loudoun County in 2019 which helped get the Critical Race Theory ball rolling in the county. I’m not going to spoil it right away but stick with this because the real story is almost unbelievable. It started with a report in the Loudoun Times-Mirror on February 21, 2019 about a cringe-worthy incident at an elementary school:

A Brambleton principal has apologized to the school community following what he called an “insensitive physical education” activity during Black History Month.

Loudoun County Public Schools officials say they are working to remedy the culture that allowed for the lesson.

Third-, fourth- and fifth-graders at Madison’s Trust Elementary School in Ashburn were instructed during their physical education period earlier this month to play a “game” that involved students working in groups, pretending to be runaway slaves and advancing through an obstacle course meant to represent the Underground Railroad.

In at least one instance, an African-American child in the class was designated as a slave for the activity, according to Loudoun NAACP Chapter President Michelle Thomas, who said she’s heard several complaints from parents regarding the activity.

I’m sure most parents in the county, white and black, who read that story were thinking basically the same thing: What kind of dimwit thought this would be a good idea? Telling black kids to pretend to be slaves in gym class? The story didn’t really lay blame at anyone in particular but it did include a photo of the principal who had apologized.

The Washington Post also covered the story: [emphasis added]

As part of recognizing Black History Month, students in the third, fourth and fifth grades at Madison’s Trust Elementary in Brambleton, Va.,were given a lecture this month about the Underground Railroad. The students were then divided into groups of six and were responsible for overcoming a physical obstacle, such as moving through plastic hoops without knocking them over, said Wayde Byard, a spokesman for Loudoun County Public Schools.

“It trivializes something that is important,” Byard said. “There was an error made here. . . . Slavery is not a game.”…

Byard said the students were not assigned the role of slaves. But Michelle Thomas, president of the NAACP’s Loudoun branch, said that aside from abolitionists, there could be no other role for students to playin an Underground Railroad simulation because African Americans used the network of trails and hiding places to escape slavery.

Thomas, a pastor, said parents of an African American student contacted her about the exercise after the child told his parents he played a runaway slave in class. Putting the boy in that situation, she said, “completely demeans him” and his ancestors, and makes light of the “terroristic in­stitution of slavery.”

We don’t know how much of this is willful ignorance, how much of it is white privilege and how much of it is an intentional racist action or if it’s a combination of all three,” she said. “It’s unacceptable, and it undermines the community and the education that our children receive.”

So the head of the local NAACP branch agreed this was a terrible idea and said it was unclear if “white privilege” or just plan racism or both were to blame. But it turns out the correct answer was none of the above. The Underground Railroad obstacle course was actually created by anti-racist consultants and eventually made its way to this particular elementary school in Virignia. The Federalist uncovered the connection last year:

…the exercise prepared by the gym teachers at Madison Trust Elementary is known as the “Underground Railroad Simulation.” It is a 30-year-old program derived from critical race theory studies that is part of the Dare 2 Be Real program, founded by anti-racism and equity coach Anthony Galloway. Dare 2 Be Real describes it as “simulat[ing] southern slaves’ frightening and sometimes brutal experiences as they fled to the north and to freedom.”…

According to an anonymous source with direct knowledge of the planning and performance of the simulation, one of the teachers learned of the Underground Railroad Simulation at a featured session during the Virginia Association for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance 2011 Convention. Further, according to documents reviewed by the author, the Underground Railroad Simulation was presented to the school’s Project Based Learning (PBL) Committee in fall 2018, including all of the fourth grade teachers, and no issues were raised.

The lesson was on the agenda of all subsequent PBL Committee meetings leading into February 2019 and 21 staff members, including the principal and assistant principal, were aware of the lesson.

The simulation itself was divided into seven stations. Those stations were:

  • Working as a team to move quietly through obstacles;
  • Allowing students to take turns as an agent (like Harriet Tubman) to assist other students through hurdles;
  • Learning about Henry “Box” Brown;
  • Using teamwork to navigate through the dark;
  • Simulating the crossing of a river;
  • Moving through hula hoops together without letting them fall; and
  • Watching a video about the drinking gourd.

So all of this was promoted and approved by the school as a fun, anti-racist exercise. Yet, somehow, when it became the subject of complaints and newspaper stories, the anti-racist connection was left out. The Daily Wire spoke to the local NAACP chapter president, Michelle Thomas, who had suggested in 2019 that white supremacy or racism might have been responsible. Now she seems to be telling a very different story.

In an interview with The Daily Wire, Thomas said she reviewed a lesson in history class in which fourth-graders adopted the perspective of slaves, and that it is not the same as the physical education obstacle course lesson.

“It’s one thing to say, ‘take on a persona,’ and another where they’re crawling through an obstacle course,” she said.

She also said she did not support the exercise in history class — which her daughter took part in and was offended by — but had okayed it with some conditions as a compromise.

“I could only offer input to the extent allowable,” she said. “That was the compromise, that you can’t choose one singled-out child.”

Thomas said she could not be held responsible for exercises pushed by other black racial activists like Galloway and Singleton, and that unlike other “equity” activists who think racial lessons should seep into every subject, she thinks “kids should be free from that in art, music, PE. You don’t expect a person who’s not a physical education teacher to teach your kid PE, so you shouldn’t want a PE teacher to teach your kids” about race.

To sum all of this up, a Loudoun County elementary school adopted a lesson promoted by anti-racist consultants during Black History Month. When some black parents complained about their kids being told to play the role of escaped slaves, it was treated as a racist incident by local papers. And, arguably it was a racist incident but it wasn’t a racist incident caused by white supremacy or racist administrators. It was a racist incident promoted by anti-racist leaders and sympathetic educators. And partly as a result of this incident, the district decided to spend millions on, you guessed it, more equity education. And we all know how that effort eventually turned out for Democrats in Virginia.