Virginia superintendents send letter in response to Gov. Youngkin's administration report on divisive concepts in schools

Posted at 3:00 PM, Mar 11, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-11 17:42:36-05

NORFOLK, Va. - Superintendents from across Virginia are responding to a report released late last month by Gov. Glenn Youngkin that examines "inherently divisive concepts" being taught in schools.

The Executive Director of the Virginia Association of School Superintendents wrote the letter to the Secretary of Public Instruction Jillian Balow. The letter says it's on behalf of all 133 public school division superintendents.

The letter says the superintendents wanted to be consulted before the governor issued the report and disagree with the governor's administration rescinding equity policies.

"Division superintendents disagree with your assumption that discriminatory and divisive concepts have become widespread in Virginia school divisions without your having involved educators in formulating that position or without having provided evidence to support that position," Ben Kiser wrote in the letter.

In late February, Gov. Youngkin released an interim report from Balow. The report said there were several policies that promote discriminatory and divisive concepts and some had a "sampling of critical race theory based materials."

The report followed Gov. Youngkin's first executive order, which bans "inherently divisive concepts" from being taught in Virginia schools.

The letter says the superintendents want more communication about these kinds of decisions and think a work group needs to be established to work through these issues.

Bob Holsworth, a Virginia political analyst, says all of this shows how controversial the governor's executive order remains.

"For those superintendents to sign onto a letter that was so critical of the governor and education really struck me as fairly unusual largely because most of their boards have been supportive of the governor, at least politically," he said.

In response, Balow released a statement, saying, “The letter fails to reflect the good faith efforts of which the Secretary 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.” 

News 3 reached out to several local superintendents to see what they think about the letter. Virginia Beach Superintendent Dr. Aaron Spence released the following statement:

I appreciate the administration’s willingness to meet with our state association and start a conversation about the issues outlined in the letter. Virginia superintendents have long been accustomed to working with the state department of education very collaboratively and communicating often, and I hope that will continue.

Regarding the findings of the 30-day report:

  • I don’t think we need to work to restore excellence in education in Virginia; rather, we should continue to build on it. Virginia Beach is a high performing school division with an impressive list of accolades and innovative practices to its credit, as are many divisions across the Commonwealth. 
  • I don’t believe the teaching of divisive concepts is widespread across the Commonwealth, and I certainly have seen little evidence of that in Virginia Beach. 
  • We work hard in Virginia Beach to make sure every one of our students, regardless of background or ability, has the supports they need to meet our high expectations as a school division, and that is the essence of working toward equitable outcomes. School divisions working toward equitable outcomes should be seen as a positive.

I am grateful the administration has expressed a willingness to discuss the issues outlined in the VASS letter, and I look forward to this as we all seek continued growth in our work.