Centreville Elementary School teacher had students participate in slavery simulation

Parents in Fairfax County are outraged after a teacher casts students as slaves and landowners during a classroom activity.

A family at Centreville Elementary School spoke with FOX 5, saying they are frustrated that their children’s school forced students to take part in a slavery reenactment.

Now, they’re calling on the administration and the teacher to be held accountable.

The issue was brought to the Lowery family’s attention when an email was sent out after school Thursday saying a teacher made students take part in a simulation based on the economics of slavery.

The school says during the activity, the teacher made some students act as slaves, and others as landowners.

We reached out to Fairfax County Public Schools to clarify what grade this incident happened in and if this is an appropriate and typical lesson for this age group.

The school system sent the following statement to FOX 5:

"Earlier this week a student teacher at Centreville Elementary School, under the supervision of a Fairfax County Public School (FCPS) teacher and while being observed by a university supervisor, conducted an inappropriate activity on the economics of slavery. During the activity, students participated in a simulation where they acted as slaves and a landowner. This exercise was not part of the approved lesson plan or division curriculum. The school has apologized directly to the families of the students who took part in this exercise, and to the wider community, for this regretful lapse in judgment made by an inexperienced trainee teacher who was subsequently counseled on the inappropriateness of the lesson.

FCPS is committed to nurturing a community that is grounded in dignity, humanization, and belonging with an emphasis on culturally-responsive practices. In partnership with our school community, the Chief Equity Office and the Equity and Cultural Responsiveness team, will continue to provide coaching, professional development, and support for all FCPS employees."

The Lowery family says they and several other families they’ve spoken to were floored as to why this teacher thought this was okay.

Northern Virginia school under fire after students instructed to play ‘runaway slave game'

"We’ve learned about slavery and the economics of slavery and Jim Crow and redlining all without ever having to pretend or simulate being a slave. You can teach it without that," Gerald Lowery said. 

 "Anyone who sort of sits with it and thinks about what it means to be enslaved it’s a horrible thing. It’s like asking someone to role-play the holocaust," Meredith Lowery added. "Who in their right mind would do that? So to me, it’s kind of like why would you pick something so incredibly traumatic that still has remnants in 2023 to make a point? I’m almost curious … Was it really a mistake or lapse in judgment?"

The principal of Centreville Elementary School sent a letter to parents Thursday evening, saying the activity is not part of the division curriculum and was not an appropriate or culturally responsive way to engage students.

READ MORE: Middle school teacher faces charges for assaulting students in Loudoun County classroom: police

He went on to say the school will use this as a learning moment and school leaders have met with students in the class to give them the ability to process their experience.

The Lowerys said they do plan to speak with the principal to address their concerns and ensure there is some sense of accountability.

They also said they want to continue the conversation to make sure this does not happen again.

Read the full letter sent to Centreville Elementary School parents below: 

Dear Centreville Elementary School Families,

Earlier this week, our administration team spoke directly to parents of students who participated in a classroom activity while teaching a lesson on slavery. This activity was inappropriate, and not part of our approved division curriculum.

I am sharing this now with our broader community to reinforce our commitment to nurture a community that is grounded in dignity, humanization, and belonging.  

The lesson involved the economics of slavery. During the activity,  students participated in a simulation where they acted as slaves and a landowner. I want to reiterate that this activity was not part of the division curriculum, and was not an appropriate or culturally responsive way to engage students. 

We have been and will continue to use this as a learning moment for the teachers and our entire staff. We have also met with the students in the class to give them the space and opportunity to process and share their experience. Raising consciousness to actions, intentional or not, that cause harm to our students and families, is critical to creating a safe and inclusive school environment. 

If you have any questions, please feel free to reach out to me directly. I would like to hear your ideas about making Centreville Elementary School a more welcoming and culturally responsive environment where each and every student feels safe and a sense of belonging.

Thank you for your partnership,

Josh Douds