School’s reenactment with ‘slaves’ and ‘bounty hunters’ causes controversy

PLAINFIELD, Ill. -- An effort to simulate the Underground Railroad, which carried slaves to freedom, became a controversy rather than a history lesson at a suburban middle school.

The Underground Railroad was a network of routes and safe houses used by African Americans to slavery. At Freedom Elementary in Plainfield, 5th graders recently performed a reenactment as part of a lesson.

Parents David and Ligaya Morgan’s 10-year-old daughter was among the students participating.

When their daughter came home recently and told them about the upcoming production, they were immediately concerned.  They believed age 10 was too young. But they went along with it but with instructions that their daughter would not be a slave in the reenactment.

As it turned out, she was picked to be a slave at a school they estimate has an African-American enrollment of about 1 percent.

“She told her teacher she was very nervous because she doesn't want to go against an adult,” David said.

So David and Ligaya say her daughter was given another role to play that was supposed to be for another African-American boy.  He was absent that day, so the Morgan’s daughter took on the role of bounty hunter who was to run down and capture escaping slaves.

While uncomfortable with the role playing, it was how it was the tone and tenor of the reenactment that has them drawing the line.

Based on what their daughter and other students told them, David and Ligaya felt the production made a mockery of the history and minimized it.

The Morgans reached out to higher ups in school district who agreed the reenactment should've been handled much differently.

Today a district spokesman released a statement to WGN News saying they have reviewed the matter and “the appropriateness of the Underground Railroad simulation activity and have decided to discontinue that activity as part of this unit."

The Morgans have also filed a complaint.  The Federal Department of Education officials tell the Morgans they will be looking into the appropriateness of the matter as well.