Proposed VA history learning standards progress, despite concerns

The Virginia Board of Education voted to open public comment across the Commonwealth on a new draft proposal regarding K-12 social studies learning standards.

VIRGINIA, USA — Virginia civil rights leaders, teachers, and parents weighed in on a new proposal for how to approach historical topics in the classroom during an hours-long meeting Thursday.

The Virginia Board of Education voted to hold public comment hearings on a revised draft proposal, regarding the history and social sciences standards of learning, in Commonwealth classrooms.

Virginia code requires the Commonwealth to revise its learning standards for school subjects every seven years.

The issue of how to move forward regarding the adoption of a new social studies standard of learning proposal has been a point of controversy dating back to the end of Democratic Governor Ralph Northam’s administration.

Under that administration, education officials produced a 402-page proposal that relied on suggestions provided by educators, parents, and various civil rights groups across the Commonwealth.

However, when Northam left office, newly elected Republican Governor Glenn Youngkin’s administration took the process in a different direction.

“This is a document that’s going to get [it] right,” Youngkin told WUSA9 in November.

The Virginia Board of Education subsequently considered two new standards of learning proposals, pertaining to the history and social studies curriculum from kindergarten to twelfth grade, in August and November, respectively.

But the draft proposals soon received pushback from some Virginians who felt they whitewashed history.

One document lacked any mention of civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. While some civil rights groups took issue with Native American groups being called the nation’s “first immigrants” in a proposal.

In response to that backlash, Virginia’s Superintendent of Public Instruction, Dr. Jillian Balow, then released a new proposal to the board of education in early January.

“These draft standards will build student understanding of the attributes, ideals and actions that have made America the world’s exemplar of freedom and opportunity,” Balow said. “At the same time, the standards are unflinching in their presentation of those times when Virginia and the nation failed to live up to our founding ideals.”

At the Virginia Board of Education’s meeting in Richmond, on Thursday, dozens of people offered their opinions on the latest proposal.

Virginia’s Chief Diversity Officer Martin Brown said during the four-and-a-half-hour public comment session he supported the latest proposal.

“The standards not only tell all of Virginia’s history, but they tell my family’s history,” he said.

However, other Virginia residents testified they were worried the proposal could still marginalize the contributions of minorities to American history.

“I am asking you, in Black History Month, to do the right thing,” said Pastor Michelle Thomas, who also serves as president of the Loudoun NAACP. “Not only for Black students but all students.”

Another speaker, Dr. Victoria Hobson, also took issue with claims her consultation was sought by the state for the third draft proposal when it actually had not been.

The Virginia Asian American and Pacific Islander Caucus also said it was false that their group had been consulted on the proposal despite claims from the state, and in other media outlets, that they did.

“To be clear, VDOE never reached out to VAAPIC,” said caucus chair Delegate Kathy Tran.

WUSA9 reached out to VDOE about those claims but has yet to receive a response from the department.

Board members would go on to eventually discuss whether they should alter the draft proposal at the meeting before letting the public comment on it further.

“We’re asking people to have confidence to let this go forward, as it is, with the hope that it will be changed when what we’ve experienced has not reflected that,” said board vice president Dr. Tammy Mann.

However, the board ultimately voted to hold public comment hearings on the unaltered draft proposal anyway.

“We need to get this out the door so we can get it to the public,” said board member Dr. H. Alan Seibert.

VDOE has yet to provide the exact details as to when and where its public comment hearings on the proposal will take place. The department said it will soon provide online options for Virginians to contribute their ideas too.

It’s possible the board could act to adopt the new proposal as soon as April, however, it adds that the timeline could always change.

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