State-Offered Diversity Resources In Question: Letter From Virginia Superintendent Group Calls For Inclusion

Demonstrators hold signs and chant as Legislators arrive at the Capitol Monday Feb. 28, 2022, in Richmond, Va. Demonstrators were asking for the teaching of black history in state schools. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

By Amie Knowles

March 14, 2022

“School division superintendents, along with their communities, know best their curriculum, personnel, and student services, and they believe that gross assumptions have been made, without evidentiary support, in the development of the 30-day report,” the letter read in part.

House Bill (HB) 787, a bill attempting to ban “divisive concepts” taught in Virginia’s K-12 schools, didn’t pass the General Assembly, but some of the bill’s concepts still made it into Virginia’s education system—and you might call them… “divisive.”

How did that happen? Through Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s Executive Order One, which he signed into law on his first day in office on Jan. 15. The order vowed to “end the use of inherently divisive concepts, including Critical Race Theory (CRT), and to raise academic standards.” Just to clarify, CRT isn’t part of the curriculum taught in Virginia schools.

In February, an interim report by the Superintendent of Public Instruction Jillian Balow listed some findings deemed “inherently divisive.” According to the report, that involved concepts that advanced “any ideas in violation of Title IV and Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.” 

The interim report either completely or partially rescinded, modified, or evaluated eight programs, policies, and materials. The changes involved:

  • All resources included on the Virginia Department of Education’s (VDOE) EdEquityVA website, including EdEquityVA resources and resource repository 
  • A Diversity, Equity, Inclusion Audit Tool 
  • Navigating EdEquityVA: Virginia’s Roadmap to Equity 
  • All resources included on the VDOE’s culturally responsive website 
  • Superintendent’s Memo #050-19 , which was allegedly replaced by a memo with a disclaimer about CRT and allegedly uses a reading list that advances the use of CRT in education 
  • “Teaching 9/11” EdEquityVA web series 
  • Virginia L.E.A.R.N.S. 
  • Virginia Math Pathways Initiative (VMPI)

A Letter In Response

On March 10, the Virginia Association of School Superintendents penned a letter calling out Youngkin and Education Secretary Aimee Guidera, for attempting to do away with state-offered diversity resources through the interim report. While the letter stated that it represented all 133 superintendents, an update by VASS Executive Director Ben Kiser later clarified that “the letter was crafted and adopted by the 12-member board and doesn’t necessarily reflect a consensus among all of its members.”

The letter didn’t hold back.

“School division superintendents, along with their communities, know best their curriculum, personnel, and student services, and they believe that gross assumptions have been made, without evidentiary support, in the development of the 30-day report,” the letter read in part.

The letter pointed out seven key issues in relation to the interim report, including:

  • No consultation of division superintendents or stakeholders groups prior to its development
  • The rescinding of EdEquityVA work
  • The assumption that discriminatory and divisive concepts were widespread in Virginia schools
  • The use of “equitable outcomes” as the basis for determining divisive concepts and suggesting it was a discriminatory approach
  • Noted that Virginia’s public education system consistently ranked as one of the best throughout the country in exceptions and student outcomes
  • Called out the use of “equitable opportunities” in place of “equitable outcomes”
  • Division superintendents disagreed with the administration’s goal of “restoring excellence,” noting that implied an inaccurate assessment of Virginia’s public education system

The letter also made two requests ahead of the 90-day report. The first asked to establish a work group with a diverse team of superintendent representatives from across Virginia to discuss the process, objectives, and data that will be included in the 90-day report. Second, the letter asked that the group receive an agenda, specifically including “clarity on the administration’s understanding of equity, opportunity, and access as they relate to serving all children, regardless of where they live.”

Moving forward, the letter asked for relevant and ongoing communications with division superintendents, sharing drafts of VDOE positions and documents with superintendents before going public with the information, having a mutual respect and understanding of the various roles in providing educational services, and termination of the “divisive concepts” email tip line.

The 90-day report will reach completion in less than two months.

  • Amie Knowles

    Amie is Dogwood's community editor. She has been in journalism for several years, winning multiple awards from the Virginia Press Association for news and features content. A lifelong Virginia resident, her work has appeared in the Martinsville Bulletin, Danville Register & Bee and NWNC Magazine.

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