In 2021, not a week goes by without Loudoun County, Virginia making the news as a result of its push to implement critical race theory in its schools. Parents are frustrated and looking for answers, while Loudoun County Public Schools (LCPS) remains largely silent as this affluent county outside of Washington, D.C. has become ground zero in the fight against critical race theory in schools.
The story of how this all happened seems relatively straightforward, but it is in fact a complicated story of gaslighting, big money contracts, and unfairly throwing teachers under the bus.
It All Started With a ‘Runaway Slave Game’
It all started in February 2019 when Loudoun County made national news after the president of the Loudoun County NAACP claimed that students at Madison Trust Elementary were instructed to pretend to be slaves during a gym class activity. This exercise was presented to the media as a “runaway slave game.”
The school was quick to issue an apology and then-Superintendent Eric Williams said the school system would take corrective action, which included hiring “[a]n outside expert [to] conduct an equity audit,” requiring all teachers to receive “cultural competence and implicit bias training,” and creating a new position related to “equity and cultural competence.”
LCPS immediately began taking action. In April 2019, it hired The Equity Collaborative, a consulting firm in California that specializes in critical race theory. LCPS paid that company $422,000 to conduct focus groups, coach and train teachers, and produce an “equity assessment.” That assessment was supposedly submitted to LCPS on June, 6, 2019. The report was titled: “Initial Report – Systemic Equity Assessment: A Picture of Racial Equity – Challenges and Opportunities in Loudoun County Public School District.”
On May 22, 2019, prior to the equity assessment release, the Loudoun NAACP filed a complaint with the Virginia attorney general alleging systemic racism at LCPS. On September 9, 2019, the Loudoun NAACP supplemented its complaint by submitting the $422,000 equity assessment.
This complaint triggered an attorney general investigation into LCPS in October 2019 and resulted in a November 18, 2020 determination by the Office of Attorney General Division of Human Rights that there was reasonable cause to believe that “LCPS’s policies and practices resulted in a discriminatory impact on Black/African-America and Latinx/Hispanic students.” The AG report indicated that it relied heavily on the findings in the $422,000 equity assessment. Ultimately, in February 2021, LCPS settled the case with the attorney general.
Revisiting the ‘Runaway Slave Game’ Origin Story
As pointed out above, the event that triggered this course of events was the so-called “runaway slave game” at Madison Trust Elementary. When I first wrote about this as the origin of the LCPS critical race theory drama in October 2020, I said about the game played at Madison Trust: “This was no doubt a misguided attempt at teaching about the Underground Railroad.” Upon further research and discussions with teachers and parents across the county, I now realize that I bought into some serious gaslighting by LCPS and the Loudoun NAACP.
In reality, 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.”
Courageous Conversation is a framework used by The Pacific Education Foundation for “effectively engaging, sustaining and deepening interracial dialogue.” The founder of Pacific Education Foundation is Glenn Singleton, who wrote a book entitled “Courageous Conversations About Race,” in which Galloway and Duffy contribute a chapter to discuss the Underground Railroad simulation.
Here is where things get very interesting as it relates to Virginia. In the “Final Report of the Virginia Commission on African American History Education in the Commonwealth,” released in August 2020 by Gov. Ralph Northam, Singleton’s book “Courageous Conversations” is listed as a resource to support implementation, as is the Pacific Education Foundation. Singleton’s book is also highlighted in at least one training presentation made by LCPS’s director of equity.
Meanwhile, the head of the Loudoun NAACP was on the commission’s Professional Development Subcommittee. That would be the very same person who said the Underground Railroad Simulation at Madison Trust Elementary was either “willful ignorance,” “white privilege,” “intentional racist action,” or a “combination of all three.”
Relatedly, the head of the Equity Collaborative that conducted the equity assessment for LCPS worked for Singleton as director of learning and teaching at the Pacific Education Group before starting The Equity Collaborative.
Here’s What Really Happened
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.
The principal and the school’s dean came to watch the exercise, both said that it was “awesome,” according to a source present during the simulation. The principal also tweeted: “TY for doing this with the students. They were 100% engaged in this learning experience.” A second school staffer tweeted: “This is amazing. They’re going to love it. Thank you for working with us on our unit.”
It wasn’t until after the Loudoun NAACP complained that LCPS changed its tune. The Madison Trust principal deleted his tweet and apologized for “insensitive physical education.” The principal then sent out an email to the whole school stating that “Loudoun County Public Schools does not endorse the use of instructional strategies that place elementary students in role-playing situations depicting the institution of slavery.”
Several weeks later, after continued press coverage, six members of the Black Panthers of Virginia entered the school to protest the use of the Underground Railroad Simulation. Since that time, one of the gym teachers has left the profession and another has moved to a different school.
Meanwhile, money started flowing to consultants. The Equity Collaborative received an initial contract and is still under contract with LCPS. The Loudoun Freedom Center, run by the head of the Loudoun NAACP, also received a long-term contract for “consultation in curriculum review” that began the month after the Underground Railroad simulation.
Then the Loudoun NAACP leveraged the Equity Collaborative assessment to trigger an AG investigation and settlement to require critical race theory in Loudoun County Public Schools. All because two teachers used an exercise invented and used by anti-racist and equity coaches across the country. What an absolute scam.