An investigation into admissions policies at the Academies of Loudoun by Attorney General Mark Herring’s Division of Human Rights has found they had a discriminatory impact on Black and Hispanic students, backing up assertions by the Loudoun NAACP when it requested the investigation.
The investigation was launched in last 2019 after a request by the Loudoun NAACP, alleging discriminatory admissions policies at the Academies of Loudoun. The School Board has also launched an overhaul of the admissions policies at the Academies of Loudoun in August, prompted by those same complaints and ongoing work to address the racial gap in the Academy of Science and the Academy of Engineering and Technology, which together make up the Academies of Loudoun.
The Attorney General’s determination, dated Nov. 18 and released Friday, Nov. 20, found in part that while the school district’s admission policies were on their face neutral, they nonetheless resulted in the “disproportionate adverse impact on Black/African-American and Hispanic/Latinx students” evident on the relatively few numbers of minority students at the school district’s magnet programs.
“Nothing is taken in account until you pass certain tests that are biased in its nature,” said Loudoun NAACP President Michelle Thomas during press conference outside the school administration building Friday. “So that is how you can look on paper as if it is not discriminatory, but when you start taking the steps and following the application process, you realize that you are actually left out of the game. And the results are the same, year after year: You can’t get in.”
The letter points to the underrepresentation of minority students in the Academies, and examples of high-accomplishing Black and Hispanic students who nonetheless were denied entry to the programs. In the first year of the Academies of Loudoun, Black students made up about 7% of students in the school system, but only about 3% of applicants to the Academies and only 0.37% of accepted students—just a single Black student.
The disparity was even wider among Hispanic students, who made up about 18 percent of the division’s student body, but only 3.96% of applicants and 3.18% of enrolled students at the Academies. And despite some steps taken to reduce the race gap in Academies admissions in their third year, the disparity actually grew worse among Hispanic students.
The report also backed up the NAACP assertion that while the school division was aware of the racial disparities, it was sluggish to act, showing “deliberate indifference” to those differences for the first two years. And it said there is work to be done on new school system policy statements calling for diversity and inclusion.
“While the Division [of Human Rights] finds that LCPS is endeavoring to establish systems that eliminate the patterns and practices that led to the Division’s inquiry, and to prevent such acts from happening in the future, it remains to be seen how these plans are implemented in practice, how progress is measured, and whether these efforts will be effective and sufficient,” the determination reads.
“We must understand the historic nature of this finding, not just in a sense that it is another piece of documentation that we have of the lived and shared experience of being discriminated against at the hands of LCPS for over 80 years,” Thomas said Friday afternoon. “But this now shows that the words of Dr. Martin Luther King [are] true.”
She referred to King’s speech at the National Cathedral in 1968, in which he said “We shall overcome because the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”
“Today there is a bend in LCPS’s systemic racism towards justice,” Thomas said. “Today there’s a bend. It’s not over, it’s just a bend. It’s not final, it’s just a bend. We have a ways to go in our conciliation agreement, but there is a bend with this determination.”
The determination lays out a series of actions the school system must now take, many within the next 60 days. Those include sending a letter to all students and parents informing them of the findings; partnering with community stakeholders including the Loudoun NAACP to develop new policies and procedures; submit to the Attorney General’s office for review new Equal Employment Opportunity policies and complaint resolution policies for students; and within the next two years hire a third-party consultant to assist in monitoring and assessing the school division’s progress.
The Loudoun NAACP’s list of requests is longer, and include things like a merit-based lottery system for admissions, a STEM-based elementary after-school and summer programs focused on African-American studies, a new public charter school with a focus on African-American studies, funding for the NAACP scholarship fund, revisions to curriculum and textbooks, a scholarship fund for students who were unable to attend the Academies due to discriminatory admissions practices, and other steps.
“The hard work starts now, of implementation and oversight,” Thomas said. “Anybody can say they will on paper, but what they’ll do in actuality, and what they’ll do in practice, we must begin to inspect rather than expect.”
And with Loudoun County Public Schools soon to be looking for a new superintendent, Thomas said the Loudoun NAACP hopes to be part of that process.
“Given the terms of conciliation that are on the table, that superintendent must be well versed in this finding, and so we want to make sure that the superintendent [who] comes in doesn’t get to hide behind, ‘I didn’t know,’” Thomas said. “Ignorance is no excuse of the law. This is now the law.”
A statement from Loudoun County Public Schools Public Information Officer Wayde Byard said the school system is reviewing the report.
“LCPS also will continue to implement its Action Plan to Combat Racism and other affirmative initiatives already underway across the division,” Byard stated.