Virginia School Apologizes After Having Students Play Slavery 'Game' for Black History Month

Madison's Trust Elementary School has come under fire over a Black History Month lesson in which students pretended to be runaway slaves

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The principal at a Virginia elementary school has apologized after officials had students act as slaves in the Underground Railroad as part of a Black History Month lesson.

Madison's Trust Elementary School Principal David Stewart sent an apology letter to parents earlier this month after drawing criticism for a physical education exercise he now calls culturally insensitive, CNN reports. As part of the lesson, children pretended to be runaway slaves navigating the Underground Railroad.

At least one Black student was designated as a slave for the activity, according to the Loudoun Times.

"The lesson was culturally insensitive to our students and families … my sincerest apology to our students and school community," Stewart said in a statement, according to CNN. "This is contradictory to our overall goals of empathy, affirmation and creating a culturally responsive learning environment for all."

Officials at Trust Elementary School didn't immediately respond to PEOPLE's request for further comment.

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The activity took place during a gym period earlier this month. The exercise was planned to encourage students to work as a team to overcome physical hurdles as they moved through an Underground Railroad-themed obstacle course, CNN reported. The students had to move between stations using a scooter without touching the ground and climb through hula hoops, Loudoun County Public Schools spokesman Wayde Byard told the site.

Loudoun NAACP Chapter President Michelle Thomas criticized school officials and said she's heard complaints from parents about the "game," the Times reports.

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

Thomas added to WTTG: "You have three teachers and an administrator who failed to see the racism in this exercise. That's startling."

Thomas noted that Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring attended Loudoun County Public Schools. Herring recently admitted to dressing in blackface while in college, CBS News reported.

Now, school officials are working to come up with a new lesson as well as form a team made up of school staff to prevent similar incidents from happening in the future, Stewart told the Times.

"Slavery was not a joke," Stewart told the Loudoun School Board last week, the Times reported. "You didn't get to choose."

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