June 16, 2024


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VEA, state NAACP push back on Youngkin’s plans to ax ‘divisive’ resources | Govt-and-politics


A coalition that includes the state’s largest teachers union, the Virginia chapter of the NAACP and the Legal Aid Justice Center criticized efforts by the Youngkin administration to extricate “divisive concepts” from schools.

During a news conference at the Capitol grounds on Tuesday, the group lambasted a recent report by Youngkin education officials that criticized ongoing efforts to address racial and socioeconomic disparities in education as “discriminatory.” The report sought to downplay the role of systemic racism in fostering those disparities and defended the decision by state education officials to scrap resources for teachers and administrators on diversity and equity.

“We will not stand idly by while he and his administration attempt to roll back the recent progress we’ve made in teaching honest and culturally competent lessons in Virginia public schools for blatant political gain,” said James Fedderman, the president of the Virginia Education Association, which represents 40,000 teachers in the state.

Fedderman said Youngkin’s efforts are an attempt to “exploit the fear of a small group of parents in order to advance his politically motivated agenda.” He also criticized a tip line the administration set up to field tips of divisive concepts, calling it a “ridiculous and insulting educator snitch line.”

“If ever there was a time to draw a line in the sand, now is that moment.”

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Fedderman was joined by leaders with the State Conference of Virginia NAACP; Equality Virginia, an advocacy group representing LGBTQ+ Virginians; the Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy, which represents churches and religious organizations; the Legal Aid Justice Center, a civil rights group; and Virginia Excels, an education reform group.

“We stand against any efforts to dismantle the progress that’s been made toward an inclusive society by those claiming we must only teach a sanitized version of history,” said the Rev. Elisha Burke, a board member of the Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy, and a leader within the Baptist General Convention of Virginia.

“We must not condone any efforts to set us back.”

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Ayana Askew’s voice grew steadily louder and cracked occasionally as her emotions took over.

Attempts by the administration to end lessons on “divisive concepts” through the legislature and the budget have so far been unsuccessful. It’s unclear if the issue will resurface during a special session of the General Assembly that begins Monday, or through the veto session later in April.

Earlier this month, the administration also fielded criticism from the Virginia Association of School Superintendents, which in a letter criticized the administration’s efforts and decried being excluded from the process by which the administration decided to scrap the diversity materials.

The letter purported to be on behalf of all 133 state school superintendents. The organization later said the group’s board crafted the letter and that it wasn’t reviewed by all school superintendents, rather, was approved through an internal process by regional leaders — drawing criticism from the Youngkin administration and its supporters. Still, no local superintendent publicly spoke out against the letter’s overall message, according to The Washington Post.

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Youngkin spokesperson Macaulay Porter said in a statement: “The politically driven VEA teacher union has failed teachers, parents, and students. Their initiatives of the past didn’t do enough to raise academic achievement, their enormous political donations to the democrats didn’t do enough to improve academic excellence, and now their baseless opinions will have no impact on the future academic success of Virginia’s next generation.

“Governor Youngkin is focused on bolstering education opportunities for all Virginians and remains undeterred by partisan stakeholders that continue to fail Virginia’s students and parents.”

Youngkin, who campaigned heavily on reforming the way schools teach students about race, directed his new education leaders to audit the state’s resources for “divisive concepts” in the first executive order he signed on Jan. 15, the day he was inaugurated.

The resulting memo describes affirmative action policies in schools as discriminatory, suggests that historic discrimination in education might not be to blame for disparate outcomes among students of color, and rejects the idea that white people may unwittingly benefit from systemic racism and discrimination.

The report made the case that schools have unduly emphasized “equitable outcomes” over “equal opportunity.”

The memo defended the scrapping of “EdEquityVA,” a state initiative that promoted equity and diversity through resources for school districts. That included an entire website dedicated to increasing cultural competency among Virginia teachers, and a “suggested readings” list that includes historian and MacArthur Fellow Ibram X. Kendi.

In mid-April, Balow is scheduled to release a final report on “divisive concepts,” per Youngkin’s executive order.

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On Tuesday, the VEA announced it would host many of the equity and diversity materials scrapped from the Virginia Department of Education website on its own servers, making them available in perpetuity to teachers, school leaders and the public.

The materials can be found at www.veanea.org/edequity


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