Photo of an empty classroom at The Science Museum of Virginia Empty Classrooms Spread Throughout the State

If this bill passes, any teacher would have to study Black history to either renew or receive a license for the first time.

RICHMOND-The way educators teach history and social studies classes in Virginia may change after this General Assembly session. On Monday, the House Education Committee approved HB1904, sending it to the full body for a vote. 

Under the plan, history and social science teachers will have to make some changes in order to get or renew their teaching license. One thing is that they’ll have to be more inclusive of Black history. 

Del. Clinton L. Jenkins (D-Suffolk) introduced the bill, but the language finds its true origins in a proposal made by the African-American History Education Commission. Gov. Ralph Northam set up the commission Aug. 24, 2019, through an executive order. Group members were ordered to examine the state’s history standards and professional development practices, then make recommendations. HB1904 was shaped from those recommendations. 

Jenkins was unable to present the bill Monday morning to the House of Delegates Committee on Education, but Del. Lamont Bagby (D-Henrico) and Del. Schuyler VanValkenburg (D-Henrico) spoke on behalf of the bill to their fellow committee members.

Teach All of History

VanValkenburg – who is also a history teacher and would be affected by the requirements of the bill – stressed why teaching a more inclusive curriculum is so important. 

“We want teachers who can teach all of our kids and teach all of our kids’ history,” VanValkenburg said. “And that’s incredibly important because when kids go to school, one thing that ties them to their school is who they are and who their ancestors are and how they fit into history.”

Virginia Secretary of Education, Atif Qarni, also supported the bill. Qarni said the bill fit the goals of the commission, which was to update the way any Virginia teacher presents history and social science and to also reform professional development.

“We have really outdated standards and curriculum and an antiquated way of teaching history and social science,” Qami said. “To make those reforms you also have to concurrently reform professional development and then the cultural competency piece and language is quite clear.”

The bill calls for three changes. First, anyone either getting their teaching license for the first time or renewing it would have to complete training on cultural competency. The goal is to prove they can understand, communicate and effectively interact with students from multiple cultures. Second, history and social science teachers also will be required to go through training on Black history. They have to complete a course before getting or renewing their license. Third, each school board has to require all district employees that hold a license issued by the board to go through cultural competency training at least every two years. 

RELATED: Commission Urges State to Change How Black History is Taught

Davis Objects to Teacher Proposal

There was one vocal detractor in the committee. Del. Glenn R. Davis Jr. (R-Virginia Beach), said his biggest concern was the requirement would “indoctrinate” Virginia students against white American history. He referenced a 2020 Department of Education meeting, where a speaker said the United States was founded on white supremacy.

“My biggest issue is what gets taught,” Davis said. “I get concerned that I have a Department of Education that will push down indoctrination. Our children should be taught everything all cultures have provided and the uniqueness of our cultures and why we’re such a great nation and state because of it. And we definitely have to make some changes. But I do have a problem when I’ve been given a little bit of a viewpoint of what this could mean and I’m very concerned that what we saw this past year on a very small scale is what gets shoved down on our teachers every two years to get their licensure.”

VanValkenburg pushed back against the claim and argued that the new curriculum requirements are not indoctrination if they are objective facts. The delegate pointed to the history of Virginia, breaking down its racist past, and pointed out that even last year the General Assembly had to remove Jim Crow-era laws from its code.

“When we talk about why African-American history matters, there’s very good objective reasons,” VanValkenburg said. “The idea that we should not have teachers know this content because we would go off the rails into a culture war would be a large disservice to our students.”

Some Republicans Support the Plan

The bill passed through committee on a mostly party-line vote of 15-6. Del. John G. Avoli (R-Staunton) and Del. Daniel W. Marshall III (R-Danville) broke party lines to vote for the bill. 

HB1790 passed in the same meeting. That would give school districts the opportunity to provide virtual learning in case of severe weather or an emergency event. HB1915 also passed in Monday’s meeting. That proposal would raise teacher salaries to match the NEA national salary average.

Julia Raimondi is a freelance reporter for Dogwood. You can reach her at info@vadogwood.com.