The Prince William County School Board adopted an “equity statement” this week, committing the division to providing resources to improve achievement for all students and working to “eliminate learning disparities.”
Board members will leave any operational changes towards those goals to incoming Superintendent LaTanya McDade.
With eight bullet-point goals, the statement was drafted by an advisory committee made up of parents, division staff and schools staff tasked with addressing racial and economic disparities in the system. The statement was adopted by a 7-1 vote, with Gainesville board member Jennifer Wall casting the vote against.
Among other priorities, the statement says that the school division is committed to providing all students and staff with “resources and opportunities that align to their unique levels of need, to meet their learning, health and safety requirements,” as well as “assuring all PWCS staff members examine and interrupt beliefs, implicit and explicit biases, policies and/or practices that perpetuate systemic racism and discrimination.”
Deputy Superintendent Keith Imon, who like Superintendent Steven Walts will be leaving his post at the division next month, told the school board that there were no actual substantive changes being made within the division to achieve the goals set out. That work would be left up to McDade and her staff.
But a group of parents raised concerns about what could be included in the policy changes, at times disrupting the meeting and causing Board Chair Babur Leteef to threaten to remove people from the room. In public comment time, a series of parents questioned whether standards would be lowered, or whether less attention would be paid to their children. Some also questioned whether “critical race theory” would become a part of the division’s curriculum.
“We’re assuming that we have racist or systemic discrimination and racism in our schools and our institutions,” Wall said. “... What are we looking at when we talk about instructional beliefs and systems that we are going to be doing?”
She also asked whether popular “anti-racism” books like Robin DiAngelo’s “White Fragility” or Ibram X. Kendi’s “How to Be an Anti-Racist” would be taught in Prince William schools.
Board members in support of the statement said that instead of lowering expectations, greater opportunity would be afforded to all students to actually increase achievement. Imon said that there was no way to say what curricular changes might be made, but that the division would continue to follow the Virginia Board of Education’s standards.
“This is the first step. The actualization of it, the operational piece of it, is not on the agenda tonight and will be looked at as you have a new superintendent coming into the school division,” he told Wall. “This is the starting point and Dr. McDade was part of the discussion moving this forward prior to her arrival … We have transparency in all our curriculum, we’ve always had that. We’ll continue to have transparency.”
Lateef told parents that the board was committed to making the school system the most competitive, high-achieving division in the state, and that the board had ardently fought to attain more slots at magnet Governor’s Schools. Vice Chair Loree Williams, who represents Woodbridge, said the statement mostly codified what the division was already doing and committed to providing more resources for all students.
“This is not about critical race theory. This is not just about being black or being white. This is not about that,” Williams said. “... These are about the students that are high-performing and don’t get those needs met because we don’t offer those classes to help them once they’ve advanced out of our system. This is about the students who are at the bottom of that same spectrum and aren’t getting the resources they need.”