RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — The Virginia Board of Education has set a timeline for the completion of the state’s new history curriculum, but some members of the board have raised objections over new perspectives on history.
The Board of Education, which now has a majority of members appointed by Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin, voted to delay the implementation of the new curriculum. Board President Daniel Gecker said at a Wednesday meeting, that the boar now plans to approve the final form in January 2023 — just two months after the original deadline in November of this year.
Gecker, an appointee of ex-governor Ralph Northam, also addressed concerns that the board had meddled with the curriculum for political reasons.
“The comments that we are changing or not teaching all history are not correct,” Gecker said. “The process we’ve been involved in now has been strictly related to what the document looks like, the form of the document.
“In my opinion, at this point, the claims that there have been substantive changes to the document to reflect what people’s view of current views is just categorically incorrect.”
Christonya Brown, the Department of Education official in charge of the social sciences curriculum, confirmed that no changes had been made — outside of corrections to unintentional errors — since the new board majority took over.
Instead, the department has focused on “decoupling” the documents — splitting the curriculum and standards so they’re easier for teachers to interpret.
“It’s separated,” Brown said. “But it’s still the same content as that document we brought to you in August.”
Next, the department will hold an open public comment until Sept. 25, which will open soon on the VDOE website. Then, in November, the board will hold community roundtables with the decoupled documents to get direct feedback.
Finally, in December, the board will hold public hearings and meet with the Historian Steering Committee for final review, with final approval occurring in January.
“We’re looking at no more than a month’s delay, which isn’t bad. I don’t think it puts us in a bad position,” Brown said.
Anne Holton, a Northam appointee, asked Brown whether she thought there were major changes needed based on the public feedback gathered so far.
“I don’t anticipate any major changes or deletion of content,” Brown said. “From what we’ve seen from public comments … it was more of expanding and being more inclusive of other peoples, events and cultures.”
One board member expressed serious opposition to the curriculum proposed by VDOE.
During Wednesday’s meeting, Suparna Dutta said, “What is a little disconcerting to me is that these themes and concepts talk about questionable concepts like conflict and power relationships and highlighting colonialism, imperialism, servitude, enslavement, nationalism, racism, cultural expressionism or like, basic economic principles.”
She added that she would rather see the curriculum based on “traditional American values” such as “individual liberty and economic freedom.”
Before her appointment by Gov. Glenn Youngkin in July, Dutta was a prominent voice in Fairfax County against efforts to promote equity at Thomas Jefferson High School, a highly selective and competitive magnet school. In 2019, the year before the pandemic struck, just 1.72% of the student body was Black — in a county where over 9% of the population is.
Dutta also opposed a shift towards “inquiry-based learning,” a teaching method that “encourages students to engage in problem-solving and experiential learning.”
“Just to reiterate,” Brown responded, “The move or the shift to inquiry-based practices is not something that just came out of this team.”
She added that it was based on national research and recommendations from the National Council for Social Studies.
Dutta, meanwhile, called the method “backward,” and questioned the VDOE’s cooperation with the National Council for the Social Sciences.
“There’s a lot of stuff on their website that’s disturbing to me,” she said. “It talks about the narrative ‘told through the lens of those who created and continue to benefit from American cultural institutions.’ It says ‘White, financially secure, Christian, heterosexual, cisgender males.'”
As the meeting wrapped up, board President Gecker pushed back against calls, primarily from Dutta, to change the curriculum.
“I would like to just remind the board members that our job at this point is not to make individual editing changes to the document,” he said. “I mean that is still within the purview of the staff.”
He added that the board could make some changes later in the process, but that they should work together towards shared goals already fulfilled by the new curriculum.
“I just don’t believe that the views of history on this board or frankly in the commonwealth are so different that we can’t reach common ground in an amicable way,” Gecker said.