RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — A group representing 133 superintendents across Virginia is condemning a report from Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s administration outlining the reversal of education equity initiatives.
The interim report was directed by Gov. Youngkin’s executive order seeking to ban “divisive concepts” in public education, including critical race theory.
The Virginia Association of School Superintendents (VASS) didn’t agree to an interview on Friday.
On Thursday, the group sent a letter to Youngkin’s State Superintendent Jillian Balow.
VASS Executive Director Ben Kiser 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.
“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,” Kiser’s letter said.“Division superintendents disagree with your assumption that discriminatory and divisive concepts have become widespread in Virginia school divisions without your having involved educators in formulating that position.”
The superintendents also said the report’s emphasis on “equal opportunity” as opposed to “equitable outcomes” could “set public education in Virginia back many years.” The letter said that doesn’t take into consideration the factors that impact student achievement in underserved communities.
State Superintendent Jillian Balow and Secretary of Education Aimee Rogstad Guidera have declined repeated interview requests since that report was released.
In a statement, Balow said, “The letter fails to reflect the good faith efforts of which the Secretary and I joined the conversation. The specific requests listed in the letter are actions that the Secretary and I offered to the superintendents as a way to keep open productive channels of communication that could lead to partnership and ensure we are serving all students in Virginia.”
When the report first came out, Youngkin said in a statement, “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 VDOE policies should certainly not recommend such concepts.”
Dr. Janice Underwood, who was appointed under former Governor Ralph Northam as Virginia’s first Director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, helped implement the initiatives Youngkin is ending.
Underwood said their goal was to identify discriminatory practices in education, eliminate barriers to student achievement and ensure all teachers had the cultural competency tools to respectfully engage with a diverse group of students.
“The bottom line is that critical race theory is a legitimate theoretical framework used to identify the ways race and racism were used to create the foundations or the systems that we all operate in now,” Underwood said. “While the theoretical framework is not and never has been taught in public schools, it certainly is legitimate and it certainly is something that we can learn and apply in American schooling.”
Underwood said Youngkin’s report relies on misleading definitions and a false notion of reverse racism.
“I’m offended by this report,” Underwood said. “I want more people to speak out against this report and against what’s happening in Virginia state government. We have chief diversity officers who are reaching out to me and saying they’re afraid to do their jobs.”
Delegate David LaRock, who introduced a failed bill to ban various “divisive concepts,” still stands behind Youngkin’s push, despite opposition from superintendents.
“Promoting guilt among one race or sex for things that happened in the past is absolutely wrong and that’s the divide between these two sides,” LaRock said.
Another report from Balow is due in six weeks. In the meantime, superintendents are urging the Youngkin Administration to quickly create a workgroup that includes superintendents of color.