After months of attack by critics charging that the division has embraced critical race theory, the School Board on Tuesday held a special workshop to provide an update on its equity initiatives designed to tamp down the growing culture war playing out each month in its meeting room.
“LCPS is not indoctrinating students using critical race theory. Critical race theory is not a part of the curriculum,” said Interim Superintendent Scott Ziegler, to punctuate the workshop, held under the title of “A Path Forward Together.”
For months, board members have been dealing with a torrent of complaints over racial education in schools, most of which, Ziegler said, has been based on misinformation, rumors and even fabrications.
CRT began as a broad set of ideas about racial inequity in academia nearly 40 years ago. In the past year, it has become a movement that fans the flames of conservative opposition to the social justice movement. Internet message boards are filled with comments about students across the nation being “indoctrinated” with the progressive ideology.
While division leaders said CRT is not a part of the curriculum and there is no imminent plan to adopt it, Ziegler and his staff highlighted the history of the school district’s equity work.
That work, in part, recognizes that students of color now comprise nearly 60% of enrollment. Today, 59 of Loudoun’s 95 schools have majority minority enrollment, with seven more approaching that threshold.
“They are growing up in a much different Loudoun County than you and I did,” Ziegler said.
“We have come to this point through a combination of school division initiatives, state initiatives, and concerns from our community,” he said. “Our work has sometimes been driven by outside factors. One was an investigation by the Virginia Attorney General’s Office launched in October 2019, which investigated allegations that African-American students enrolled in Loudoun County Public Schools have been denied an equal opportunity to participate in LCPS’s Academies of Loudoun.”
In 2019, the Equity Collaborative was contracted to conduct a study of equity throughout the district. The study documented individual instances of offensive behavior, noted differences in academic performance, found a low level of racial literacy among faculty and staff, and drew the overall conclusion that systemic racism existed throughout the school system.In response to these findings, the School Board formed an Equity Committee to dive deeper into the concerns and installed equity specialists in every school.
The report “helped us understand that the school system needed to change to address all students’ needs,” Ziegler said. “Students who came to school expecting a safe and affirming environment setting them up to learn were experiencing racial and cultural insensitivity, and our staff was trained in how to handle it.”
But those changes don’t involve teaching CRT in the schools, he said, despite the “ongoing misinformation.”
“I will say again tonight that it is not,” he said. “The implication for this criticism was that somehow teaching teachers to understand and deal with race issues in the classroom would somehow diminish the learning climate and achievement in the classroom for all students, a correlation that simple does not track.”
“Equity is not an academic exercise, but a reflection of reality,” he said.
Several board members felt that the workshop didn’t provide a clear enough distinction between the division’s equity efforts and the national debate over CRT.
“One of the things that we hear often from some of the community is you say you’re not teaching critical race theory, but you are teaching culturally responsive framework and that is just a rose by any other name,” said Ian Serotkin (Blue Ridge). “For people who don’t live and breathe this every day or who aren’t talking about instructional matters, to some people it sounds like you’re replacing one buzz word with another.”
“I think teaching the history of racism is important, regardless of whether everyone agrees or disagrees with any theory. And I think we can all agree that the topics we talked about today, the debate surrounding CRT and all of the other topics, are part of our current national dialogue,” said Atoosa Reaser (Algonkian). “They are current events.”
“Informing students about the debate does not equal indoctrinating them with that theory,” she said, comparing it to teaching about different religions or economic theories. “The next generation can learn from the mistakes we made in the past and do better.”
Jeff Morse (Dulles) said his equity priorities are to focus on younger students in early grades and to push for a more diverse workforce. But he also is concerned that the school division’s efforts haven’t been communicated well, with some classroom discussions or assignments being taken out of context and becoming national news items.
“All that has done is created incredible turmoil in the community because of message is getting lost. Our message has to stay focused. We have to communicate it. It has to be focused on the equity and not the other issues that are being brought in and that message needs to be consistent across all of our instruction,” Morse said.
Harris Mahedavi (Ashburn) agreed with other board members about the need to have a broader community conversation about the issue and to make the concepts and terms used in equity talks more understandable for board members, students, and the community. “There’s a lot of consulting-speak words here,” he said.