Protest Over Virginia School's Slave Activity Breaches Security: Sheriff's Office - NBC4 Washington

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Protest Over Virginia School's Slave Activity Breaches Security: Sheriff's Office

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    NEWSLETTERS

    Elementary Students Told to Be Slaves for Gym Lesson

    Students in grades 3-5 were instructed to act as runaway slaves and slave owners during a gym lesson for Black History Month. News4's Shomari Stone reports. (Published Thursday, Feb. 21, 2019)

    Authorities say a group claiming to be part of the Black Panther Party protested inside a Loudoun County, Virginia, school where teachers instructed students to pretend to be slaves for a gym activity last month.

    An employee at Madison's Trust Elementary School called 911 Friday morning and said people were being disorderly inside the school's office.

    School officials told deputies that the group of six people entered the school's vestibule after following a parent and a student who were cleared to enter the school. The group then continued into the office and some members asked to speak with a school administrator "to discuss how recent events in the news surrounding the school were being addressed," the Loudoun County Sheriff's Office said in a release.

    When an adminstrator said he couldn't discuss personnel matters, the group left and chanted "No justice, no peace," according to the sheriff's office.

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    When deputies arrived, they found the group, wearing all black, was calm while leaving the school. They were compliant and told the deputies they were with the Black Panther Party, the sheriff's office said.

    There were no threats made to the school or staff, but a school officer stayed on campus for the rest of the school day, according to the sheriff's office.

    The sheriff's office said it is investigating security at the school in light of the "breach of visitor access."

    Last month, Principal David Stewart apologized to parents after students were instructed to act like runaway slaves in the Underground Railroad for a Black History Month lesson during gym class.

    "The lesson was culturally insensitive to our students and families. I extend my sincerest apology to our students and school community," Stewart said in the letter sent on Feb. 12.

    Students in grades 3-5, including African-American students, were split into groups and challenged to overcome a physical obstacle. Some of the students pretended they were escaped slaves, Loudoun NAACP Chapter President Michelle Thomas said.

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    "It's awful," Thomas previously told News4. "It's really insulting. It makes me feel unsafe because I have kids in Loudoun County Public Schools."

    Loudoun County Public Schools Superintendent Eric Williams said in a later statement the school system would make the following changes to address address racism, cultural insensitivity and inequity:

    • Creating an "Equity and Cultural Competence Specialist" position for fiscal year 2020. "This person will organize cultural competence and implicit bias training for all teachers and administrators. Previously, this training had been optional for teachers and administrators, and it will now be required," Williams said.
    • An outside expert will conduct an equity audit this spring to gather perspectives on racial and cultural insensitivity. The school system will then devise a longterm plan based on the results.
    • The school board's budget for 2020 includes a position "dedicated to equity in education."
    • The school board will create a group to address equity in education.

    "We acknowledge that this incident at Madison’s Trust is a symptom of a broader issue. The diversity in Loudoun County is one of our greatest strengths, but Loudoun County is also a place where equity has proven a challenge for many decades," Williams said. "We have struggled with inequities in student achievement gaps, discipline disproportionality, underrepresentation of minority students in advanced programs and courses, and the lack of a diversified teacher workforce."

    The incident came after several top officials in Virginia, including Gov. Ralph Northam, were embroiled in a blackface scandal.

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