School apologizes after teaching students black history with ‘Escaping Slavery’ game

A North Carolina school board apologized for a lesson where students played a game called “Escaping Slavery.”
A North Carolina school board apologized for a lesson where students played a game called “Escaping Slavery.” Twitter screen grab

A board of education has apologized after students at a North Carolina elementary school played a game called “Escaping Slavery” to learn about black history.

Fourth-grade students at Codington Elementary School in Wilmington participated in the role-playing game that was supposed to teach them about the Underground Railroad, WECT reported.

However, the game caused outrage, prompting the New Hanover County Board of Education to issue a statement where it said the Black History Month lesson crossed the line of good taste.

“We understand the stated purpose of the lesson, but we do not believe the strategy of using this game to teach historical facts about a topic as sensitive and painful as slavery was appropriate,” board chair Lisa Estep said in the statement. “Though it was not the intention of our educators to downplay or trivialize slavery, we realize that it has caused angst and heartache within our community.”

“We apologize for any hurt this may have caused,” Estep wrote in the statement.

A spokesperson for the schools said no teachers or staff have been punished because of the ‘Escaping Slavery” game, Star News Online reported.

The purpose of the game was to have students learn “important stats and facts during the time period of slavery in America,” according to its description on the Teachers Pay Teachers website.

In the game, students were given a “Freedom Punch Card,” that said, “If your group runs into trouble four times, you will be severely punished and sent back to the plantation to work as a slave,” WECT reported.

Cartoon characters of slave families and shackles are used in the game, according to WRAL.

However, the game’s description said “this activity is by no means intended to disregard the fact that slavery was an inhumane and unnecessary period for so many people.”

Beyond an apology, the board of education has responded by asking for answers, in the form of a report, from the school superintendent and his staff, according to the statement.

Additionally, the board said in the statement that all employees will participate in “cultural competency training,” as well as focus groups to discuss “equity, bias, and access in the district.” In addition, administrators and educators will be required to meet on issues of cultural competency.

“We have a very diverse student body and school staff, and we are working to bring cultural sensitivity to the forefront to support that diversity,” Estep said in the statement. “It is unfortunate that this incident occurred. Moving forward, the Board will follow up to ensure that these actions are implemented.”

The principal at an elementary school in Loudoun County, Virginia apologized for a similar lesson, the Loudon Times-Mirror reported. Students pretended to be runaway slaves moving “through an obstacle course meant to represent the Underground Railroad,” which the principal called “insensitive physical education,” according to the newspaper.

UNC-Chapel Hill Chancellor Carol Folt issues a public apology for the university’s connections to slavery and injustice to African Americans during University Day at Memorial Hall in Chapel Hill Friday, Oct. 12, 2018.

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Noah Feit is a Real Time reporter with The State and McClatchy Carolinas Regional Team. The award-winning journalist has worked for multiple newspapers since starting his career in 1999.