“I Wish That He Would Follow His Own Advice”: Virginians Ask For Honesty In Education

By Amie Knowles

April 1, 2022

Leaders from several Virginia organizations turned inaccessibility into mobility.

If you’re hoping to access the EdEquityVA resources offered through the Virginia Department of Education’s (VDOE) Virginia Is For Learners website, you’re out of luck.

Per the request of Virginia’s Superintendent of Public Instruction Jillian Balow, the materials vacated the website as of April 1, an action directly related to an interim report required by Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s Executive Order One. Looking for concepts deemed “inherently divisive,” the report included materials that advanced “any ideas in violation of Title IV and Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.” 

Materials under the EdEquityVA rollout were included in the interim report, as were a math pilot program, a memo, and a 2020 program called Virginia L.E.A.R.N.S. (Leading, Engaging, Assessing, Recovering, Nurturing and Succeeding).

Now, an Error 404: Page Not Found code resides in the EdEquityVA materials’ former place on the Virginia Is For Learners website. The program formerly existed to lead state efforts toward advancing education equity, eliminating achievement gaps, and decreasing disproportionality in student outcomes.

But that’s not the end of the story, thanks to swift action by the Virginia Education Association (VEA). 

Still Accessible 

While the EdEquityVA resources are no longer available through the Virginia Is For Learners website, they are still accessible online. The VEA chose to provide the materials on its website.

“The Virginia Education Association thinks it is important for local school divisions and individual educators to have access to quality equity training materials, so we are making them available here as a public service,” the VEA posted in part ahead of the materials.

In addition to providing the materials online, leaders from the union—comprised of more than 40,000 teachers and school support professionals—also participated in a press conference in Richmond alongside four other organizations on March 29, where they called for honesty in education. 

“We are here today for a simple reason: to put Gov. Youngkin on notice that we will not stand idly by while he and his administration attempt to rollback the recent progress we’ve made in teaching honest and culturally competent lessons in Virginia public schools for blatant political gain,” said Dr. James Fedderman, VEA President.

Fedderman also gave a call to action of sorts to students, expressing that “if ever there was a time to draw the line in the sand, now is that moment.”

Equity In Education

Taikein Cooper, executive director of Virginia Excels, also took the podium at the press conference. There, he spoke about a personal experience he had at around age 10, when he learned about the racism that happened in Prince Edward County where he grew up. 

Sitting in the office where his mother ran a low-income housing community one summer day, an older man approached Cooper. He held a letter in his hands and asked the boy to read it, stating he forgot his glasses. It was a Social Security Administration letter, which Cooper explained to the best of his ability. Following his mother’s workday, Cooper inquired about the man and discovered that he couldn’t read. As most 10 year olds might, he wondered why.

Cooper’s mother then told a story he’d never heard before: the difficult integration of Prince Edward County Public Schools. By the time school started in the fall, Cooper was filled with more questions, which he started asking. 

“Over time, we continuously heard, ‘We should just move on. Now, these things don’t matter. To truly heal, we should just forget about those things because we’re here in harmony now,’” Cooper said. “And we didn’t really start to hear that story in Prince Edward County until the 50th anniversary of Brown [v. Board of Education] in 2004.”

However, Cooper found that by bringing the history to the forefront, it actually brought people closer together, rather than divided them apart.

“I think when we talk about quote, unquote ‘divisive concepts,’ I think we’re just talking about history. And I’m afraid that if we don’t learn from our history, we’re going to repeat it.”

Doing What You Say

Frank Callahan, Education Committee lead at the Virginia State Conference NAACP, also took the stand, expanding on available education equity resources. During his remarks, he read a quote, noting that he’d attribute it subsequently. 

“‘All Virginia students should have the opportunity to receive an excellent education that teaches all history including the good and the bad, prioritizes academic excellence, and fosters equal opportunities for all students. Our Virginia students should not be taught to discriminate on the basis of sex, skin color, or religion and [the] VDOE policies should certainly not recommend such concepts,’” Callahan said. “And if you want to know who said that, it was Gov. Youngkin. He was the one who presented that, and I wish that he would follow his own advice because the Virginia Department of Education has put out an excellent 50-some page document talking about Virginia’s Road Map to Equity.”  
Dogwood was still able to access EdEquityVA webinars through the VDOE’s YouTube channel and resources like the equity document Callahan mentioned linked through VDOE’s website as of 11 a.m. on April 1.

  • 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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