RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — The State Board of Education delayed action on standards that could overhaul the way Virginia schools teach history.
It happened at the board’s first meeting since Governor Glenn Youngkin appointed new members, who now make up a majority.
“I want us to teach all of our history in Virginia, the good and the bad,” Gov. Youngkin told the board during brief remarks on Wednesday afternoon. “This is the moment for us to take a really serious look at how we are teaching this most important topic.”
State Superintendent Jillian Balow said she recommended the delay to give board members more time to review the changes and allow the Department of Education to fix errors in the current draft document.
“It’s not because I want them changed substantially or I want to omit things or anything like that. I want to get them ready for primetime,” Balow said during a brief interview.
The errors cited by Balow included the removal of a reference to George Washington as the “Father of our Country” and James Madison as the “Father of the Constitution.” VDOE staff said the intention was to relocate the information but there was an oversight.
“It appears to be inadvertent. It has been corrected now. We want to make sure there are not other errors like that,” Balow said.
The draft document, which spans more than 400 pages, was developed over more than two years under former Governor Ralph Northam’s administration with extensive input from historians, educators, students and parents.
Atif Qarni, who served as Secretary of Education under Northam, said in a previous interview the changes are designed to emphasize historical themes over chronology. He said that will give students more opportunities to think critically and draw connections between the past and present.
Qarni said the edits also elaborate on contributions and challenges faced by marginalized groups, something many stakeholders felt was lacking.
Qarni raised concerns that the Youngkin administration would water down that work, citing their focus on banning critical race theory in schools, which is not addressed in the revised curriculum.
Balow said, “We don’t want to conflate concepts like African American history and CRT. Those are two different conversations entirely…we have not had discussions about watering down or eliminating any of the African American history from the standards.”
During more than an hour of public comment on various topics, a number of speakers echoed Qarni’s concerns and asked the board to stay the course with the existing edits.
“These proposals include more coverage of Black history and more inclusion and representation of minority groups in Virginia and U.S. history. These recommendations must remain in the revised standards,” Frank Callahan of the Virginia NAACP said. “Far too often, political officials make educational decisions to promote their own political agenda.”
“It is unfair to students to delay this process for a redundant one and seems inconsiderate of taxpayers to increase the cost by spending time on endless revisions,” said another speaker, Sara Ward.
State Board of Education President Daniel Gecker, who was appointed by former Governor Terry McAuliffe, eventually agreed to push back the timeline after hearing from new members. He initially opposed the delay, pointing out that state law mandates the revision of history standards at least once every seven years and they’re nearing that deadline.
“I don’t like to see those timelines slip,” Gecker said. “There has been a push to move toward a resolution of this in 2022 long before this became what appears to be a political issue for unknown reasons to me honestly.”
VDOE staff will have until the board’s next scheduled meeting on Sept. 15 to scrutinize the draft document. Additional public hearings will not be held until after that meeting.
While final approval of the new standards was initially set for November 2022, that’s not likely to happen until January 2023 now, according to VDOE spokesperson Charles Pyle.
“It won’t affect when the standards will be introduced in schools,” Balow said.
Pyle said it will take three years to fully implement the changes after the standards get final approval from the board.