The letter refers directly to a 30-day report that Balow released in February in which she announced the rescinding of numerous policies, memos and programs that had been established under former Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam to expand equity, diversity and inclusion in public schools. When Youngkin took office in January, his first executive order was aimed at banning all “inherently divisive concepts” from schools. Those concepts include “critical race theory and its progeny.”
The “divisive concepts” language in practice means that Youngkin, and other Republican governors and legislatures, are moving to restrict or outright ban conversations on racism, gender and other controversial issues in classrooms. They have claimed that critical race theory, an academic framework that examines how policies and laws perpetuate systemic racism in this country, is being widely taught in American classrooms in part to make White students feel guilty.
The state’s superintendents made clear in Thursday’s letter — sent through the nonprofit Virginia Association of School Superintendents — that they are rejecting Youngkin’s agenda.
“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,” the superintendents’ letter says.
The schools chiefs also said: “Your use of ‘equitable opportunities’ in lieu of ‘equitable outcomes,’ without considering those factors that impact student achievement in underserved communities, can set public education in Virginia back many years. Quality education in Virginia has to be more than providing opportunities and hoping for the best. Virginia’s accountability system relies heavily on student outcomes, not opportunities.”
The superintendents called on Youngkin to end a controversial “tip line” he created so parents can report teachers who are supposedly promoting “divisive practices” and violating his order against mask mandates.
The superintendents said they disagree with the rescission of much of the education equity work being done in the Education Department, and the Youngkin administration’s “assumption that discriminatory and divisive concepts have become widespread in Virginia school divisions” without involving educators in “formulating that position or without having provided evidence to support that position.”
The superintendents pushed back on the Youngkin administration for claiming that it is “restoring excellence” to the state’s public education system, noting that by most measures, “Virginia ranks near the top and surpasses most states throughout the country.”
Balow’s report says that every resource on the EdEquityVA website is rescinded because they all include a “divisive concept,” including a “road map to equity” developed by the Northam administration. That report says: “Basic tenants of anti-racist education are adapted from a CRT author and include, “White People benefit from racism, regardless of intentions.” (The word “tenants” is misused in the report; the author must have meant “tenets.”)
Asked to comment about the superintendents’ letter, Balow released a statement saying: “The letter fails to reflect the good faith efforts of which the [education] secretary [Aimee Guidera] 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.”