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Underground Railroad simulation raises concerns

HOLLAND, Ill. (AP) | 5/8/2018, 11:45 p.m.
Parents of McKinley Junior High School sixth-graders in suburban Chicago are outraged a school field trip to southeastern Wisconsin included ...
Lincoln Home National Historic Site ranger Bob Sablotny heads toward the Lincoln Home in Springfield, Illinois, during a tour with students from McKinley Junior High School in South Holland, Illinois. David Spencer of The State Journal-Register

HOLLAND, Ill. (AP) – Parents of McKinley Junior High School sixth-graders in suburban Chicago are outraged a school field trip to southeastern Wisconsin included a re-enactment of the Underground Railroad.

The students took a four-day trip to the Nature’s Classroom Institute in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, The Chicago Tribune reported. One activity involved students acting as runaway slaves while teachers and staff portrayed Underground Railroad guides, sheriffs and bounty hunters.

Dawn Peterson said her 11-year-old daughter found the simulation scary. She said race played a troubling role in the dynamic because the majority of students were African American, while almost all of the teachers were White.

“Something about the experience just didn’t feel right,” Peterson said.

Peterson criticized district officials for not properly explaining the nature of the simulation to parents.

However, parent Davenia Clark said her daughter came home with a better understanding of history.

“She didn’t realize this is what our people went through, as far as slavery is concerned,” Clark said. “There should be more history that’s shown [rather] than taught. I wish we had had something like that in school.”

Superintendent Jerry Jordan and school Principal Jerome Ferrell signed an April 19 letter to parents addressing the issue. The historical simulation has been a part of the school’s curriculum for more than a decade, and the experience is conducted in a “controlled and supervised environment,” the letter said.

“If your child was negatively impacted by this simulation activity, we sincerely apologize, this was not our intent. In the past, we tried our best to inform students and parents about what will happen. But the concerns expressed have made us realize we can do more.”

The school board is still reviewing complaints and declined to comment.