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Va. superintendents push back on Youngkin administration’s ‘divisive content’ report

The Virginia Department of Education offices are in the James Monroe Building in Richmond.
The Virginia Department of Education offices are in the James Monroe Building in Richmond.(Parker Michels-Boyce/ For the Virginia Mercury)
Published: Mar. 11, 2022 at 8:12 AM EST
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Local school administrators are pushing back on an interim report that rescinded equity initiatives at the Virginia Department of Education and calling on Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s administration to terminate a tipline for “divisive” teaching.

In a Thursday letter, the Virginia Association of School Superintendents said the recent report made “gross assumptions” about public education in Virginia and failed to solicit input from local school administrators. Members of the association, which represents the state’s 133 local school divisions, first read the report after it was picked by the media, according to Executive Director Ben Kiser.

Despite the lack of local involvement, Jillian Balow, the state’s superintendent of public instruction, concluded that “discriminatory and divisive concepts” had become widespread in public school divisions.

“We recognize that was a campaign issue,” Kiser said. “However, we’ve never agreed with that. It’s a topic that’s gained traction — a lot of misinformation, a lot of assumptions, and very little research as to what’s actually being done in schools. It just got legs and now we’re trying to respond to it as those campaign positions are now becoming policy and legislation.”

Balow said the letter did not express her willingness to engage with local administrators.

“The letter fails to reflect the good faith efforts of which the secretary and I joined the conversation,” she said in a statement to the Mercury. “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.”

The letter, and later exchange, underscore tensions that have emerged as Youngkin attempts to make good on his campaign promises to ban critical race theory and implement what he’s described as much-needed reforms in Virginia schools. The interim report — which Youngkin on his first day in office tasked Balow with producing — made sweeping changes to VDOE policies that had been developed over the last three years.

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.(Virginia Mercury)

The Virginia Mercury is a new, nonpartisan, nonprofit news organization covering Virginia government and policy.

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