A three-year-old “racist” incident at a Virginia elementary school that helped trigger the woke revolution that made national headlines and pitted parents against schools boards may have all been based on a misunderstanding – and maybe even deception, The Daily Wire has learned.
In February 2019, parents of a black Loudoun County Public Schools elementary student complained after their son was instructed to pretend to be part of the Underground Railroad while navigating an obstacle course in phys ed class. The local NAACP chapter accused the school system of racism, prompting the district to hire racial consultants and create an “equity” bureaucracy.
“We don’t know how much of this is willful ignorance, how much of it is white privilege and how much of it is an intentional racist action or if it’s a combination of all three,” Michelle Thomas, the then-head of the Loudoun branch of the NAACP, told the Washington Post. “It’s unacceptable.”
The district swung into action, doling out a $500,000 contract to a firm called Equity Collaborative to help cleanse it of racism.
“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,” the district said in a statement. “If your lesson plans contain role-playing or re-enactments around the topic of slavery, it is imperative that you not implement that activity and that no student is placed in such a role.”
It was one of Loudoun County schools’ earliest steps down a road that would eventually make it the epicenter of parent-school board clashes over transgender, race, and sex education policies. The curriculum and social policy debate that would erupt two years later in Loudoun County drove national headlines and animated political races around the country.
Yet it all appears to be rooted in confusion over the far Left’s penchant for teaching “anti-racism” by employing tactics that are themselves objectively racist and by knee-jerk reactions of local leaders quick to accuse and quicker to apologize.
The Daily Wire has learned that Equity Collaborative’s owner, Jamie Almanzan, previously worked as Director of Learning and Teaching at Pacific Education Group (PEG), a race consultant that helped push an Underground Railroad role-play lesson. Almazan’s old boss at PEG was Glenn Singleton, author of the 2012 book “More Courageous Conversations About Race” and a leader in “anti-racist” school curricula.
Singleton’s book includes a section by Anthony Galloway, who writes that he worked for a school district where “the PEG Beyond Diversity seminar was offered free to all staff… I put together a list of suggestions for districts to partner around including the Underground Railroad experience.”
Galloway’s suggestions for school districts, first highlighted by Fight for Schools Executive Director Ian Prior, included having “students explore their own racial and cultural identity through their: Study of critical race theory… [and] Experience in the Underground Railroad Simulation (a 30-year-old program founded in MN).”
Singleton oversaw far more disturbing versions of physical racial role-playing in Minnesota, as reported in this reporter’s book, “Race to the Bottom.” In one 2009 incident, Singleton hired actors who took children from their classroom in the overwhelmingly white town of Eden Prairie, chained them together, blindfolded them and drove them to a park, then ran after them angrily as they fled. When the actors caught them, they had the children write down the things they loved, then took the paper away. The ordeal was purported to teach “tolerance.”
Taxpayers paid Singleton $31,000 for the event.
Soon after, an exercise similar to Galloway’s Underground Railroad scenario had made it into conferences, including the Virginia Association for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance, which brought it to educators in 2011.
By 2018, the lesson had made its way into Madison Trust Elementary, the Loudoun County school where the child’s participation sparked outrage. In newly obtained records, an LCPS curriculum manager wrote a month prior to the February 2019 incident that Thomas, the local NAACP official and a pastor, had actually vetted a lesson involving slavery role-playing that upset some parents. Thomas, who also ran the Loudoun Freedom Center, was asked to weigh in to help ensure the curriculum was “inclusive and equitable.”
“We specifically discussed the activity in question, and Pastor Thomas recommended having the WHOLE class take on one perspective at a time,” Patty Coggins, LCPS’ social science supervisor wrote at the time. “Pastor Michelle also volunteered to speak to any African American parents who had questions about our approach to tackling these sensitive, yet vital conversations and activities.”
In an interview with The Daily Wire, Thomas said she reviewed a lesson in history class in which fourth-graders adopted the perspective of slaves, and that it is not the same as the physical education obstacle course lesson.
“It’s one thing to say, ‘take on a persona,’ and another where they’re crawling through an obstacle course,” she said.
She also said she did not support the exercise in history class — which her daughter took part in and was offended by — but had okayed it with some conditions as a compromise.
“I could only offer input to the extent allowable,” she said. “That was the compromise, that you can’t choose one singled-out child.”
Thomas said she could not be held responsible for exercises pushed by other black racial activists like Galloway and Singleton, and that unlike other “equity” activists who think racial lessons should seep into every subject, she thinks “kids should be free from that in art, music, PE. You don’t expect a person who’s not a physical education teacher to teach your kid PE, so you shouldn’t want a PE teacher to teach your kids” about race.
Scott Mineo, the founder of the Loudoun-based Parents Against Critical Theory (PACT), said the saga shows how toxic the movement to force extreme “anti-racist” curriculum into schools can be.
“To know that this was a sanctioned lesson in the state of Virginia and then create faux outrage and then bring in the Equity Collaborative whose founder worked for a guy who ran similar lessons, it’s so perverse it’s not even funny,” he said.
@EquityCollab consultant saying public schools are not for learning because the kids have the internet. Instead he wants to focus on building “relationships”. @LCPSOfficial has paid this group hundreds of thousands of 💲💲. Is this why LCPS is not concerned about learning loss? pic.twitter.com/jPx4HYEJi6
— Moms For Liberty Loudoun (@Moms4LibLoudoun) April 14, 2022
Almanzan, the consultant who landed a lucrative contract to root out the very kinds of lessons his mentor and other anti-racist peers had previously advocated, should have told the district the Underground Railroad lesson was never meant to be racist, Mineo said. Instead, Equity Collaborative produced an audit that depicted Loudoun as systemically racist — and in need of more racial consulting contracts — by offering a series of dubious allegations without evidence, including “school sites being visited by members of the KKK.”
“They smelled the money and were hoping no one would find out about their past,” Mineo said. “And now they’ve been paid hundreds of thousands of dollars based on deception.”
Almanzan did not return a request for comment.
The Daily Wire is building up its investigative reporting team to bring you the stories the legacy media refuse to cover. Support journalism that matters and join one of the fastest-growing conservative media companies in America by becoming a Daily Wire member today.