For many years, Black parents showed up en masse at school board meetings to object to the racially biased treatment of Black children in Loudoun County, a suburb in northern Virginia. Then, in February 2019, students at Madison’s Trust Elementary School in Ashburn were told to navigate an obstacle course in gym class to simulate enslaved people escaping through the Underground Railroad.
The incident pushed Loudoun County Public Schools into the national spotlight, said Katrece Nolen, a Black mother of two school-age children in the district. Loudoun’s history of structural racism in education, however, dates back decades. Its school system was the last in Virginia, and one of the last in the nation, to desegregate following the Supreme Court’s 1954 ruling in Brown v. Board of Education.