Virginia history standards, criticized by local teachers’ unions, were sent back to the drawing board

The Virginia Board of Education held a public hearing on new draft standards for history and social studies last week (via VDOE/YouTube)

Fairfax County teachers’ unions expressed relief after new state-proposed history norms were rejected by a governor-appointed panel late last week.

On Thursday evening (Nov. 17), Virginia’s board of education voted unanimously to again delay approval of new history standards drafted by the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE).

The proposed standards contained numerous admitted errors, errors and typos, and were radically changed from a 400-page working draft first published that summer.

The new document was also significantly shorter. A longer “framework” document that includes information on how to teach the material will be released next summer, according to the Washington Post.

“We are pleased to see that the Board of Education heard the voices of teachers, students, parents and community activists,” said David Walrod, president of the Fairfax County Federation of Teachers (FCFT). “The draft standard has been submitted [Thursday] was hastily put together, and several new versions were released within days.”

Among the most discussed changes in the draft standards was the removal of Martin Luther King Jr. Day and Juneteenth as public holidays. They also referred to Virginia Natives as America’s “first immigrants.”

The draft also eliminated racism in America as a central topic to be taught in many classes, while removing instances of culture and government being taught to students outside of Europe and the United States

The board’s rejection came after a four-hour public hearing during which a number of speakers, including Walrod, described the new standards as “wash white” history.

The VDOE first published this draft less than a week before the Board was due to vote on it, leading to members complaining about the short timeframe for reviewing such major changes.

Approval had already been postponed from August after a previous draft was similarly riddled with bugs and errors. This draft was also around 400 pages long, compared to the 57-page document this time.

The board, made up of representatives from the last three governorships and forming a bipartisan group, instructed the VDOE last week to revise its draft to fix mistakes and incorporate more of the August draft. Once approved, the standards will be implemented for the 2024-2025 school year.

State Superintendent Jillian Balow apologized for some of the errors and said some had been corrected ahead of last week’s meeting, but citing the significant changes and short timeframe, Chief Executive Daniel Gecker said approving the draft now would be “disrespectful” and wouldn’t do so lead, “The Boards best product.”

Board member Anne Holton called the new draft a “disaster”.

“I have defended the government’s handling of this matter both publicly and privately,” she said. “I’ve told people who thought this was an attempt to sugarcoat something… to calm down. We’re really just trying to get it right. I don’t have that confidence anymore and I can’t tell these people that anymore.

Before the hearing, the FCFT and the Fairfax Education Association (FEA), a union representing 4,000 public school employees in the county, said the new draft standards “loaded with political bias‘ and possibly ‘teach only one view of history’. Attitude “The state of Virginia goes back decades” if approved.

The NAACP’s Fairfax County branch called her “racist” and “factually wrong”.

As a former third grade teacher, Walrod was dismayed that the social studies standards for that grade, which “are typically an introduction to world history including Mali, Egypt, China, Greece and Rome, had been reduced to a Eurocentric curriculum just about Greece and Rome .”

“We hope that the next draft of the standards will look closer to the version presented in August, compiled with input from historians, educators, educational leaders, educational experts, families and community leaders,” he said after voting on the delay. “We hope that the next draft will not be created by individuals and groups that Superintendent Balow declined to even name.”

The FEA said it was “fortunate” that the state board of education “listened to the citizens of Virginia and delayed action on the new draft document.”

The new draft was fraught with inaccuracies, but most importantly, it left out portions of the story that did not align with Governor Youngkin’s political and controlled narrative. When our students are at the heart of what is being done; If we’re truly looking out for their best interests, then we owe it to them to teach the truth (the good, the bad, and the ugly) about American and Virginia history.

A spokesman for Fairfax County Public Schools said the district would not comment. School Board Chairwoman Rachna Sizemore Heizer has not responded to FFXnow’s request as of press time.

When Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s office was asked to respond to the board’s postponement and criticism of the draft from local unions, among others, FFXnow cited public comments he made on Friday (Nov. 18).

Youngkin expressed disappointment at the draft’s “omissions and errors” and suggested that some of the rejection was due to confusion over the lack of a framework or syllabus in the new document. He asked people to “be patient.”

A revised draft is expected to be presented to the Executive Board in early 2023.

Virginia reviews its standard high school history curriculum every seven years, making it the first review since 2015. This year’s process has been particularly tense after Youngkin issued an executive order banning “critical race theory” in schools.

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