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Advisory Board Makes Recommendations to Fight Racial Inequity in Schools

Lynchburg City Schools

An appointed advisory board recommended that the state address racial achievement and opportunity gaps by diversifying and training teachers, and also opening up access to advanced coursework and gifted programs.

The African American Superintendent’s Advisory Council, composed of school administrators but also teacher, advocacy, and alumni groups, delivered its recommendations Wednesday. It was appointed by Superintendent of Public Instruction James Lane in September 2020.

Myles Hunt, a high school senior from Portsmouth on the board, said that despite recent progressive political victories in Virginia, schools still need work.

“When you look at the news today regarding Virginia through the actions of the General Assembly and through the governor, you see that we're labeled as progressive,” he said. “As it relates to the educational field, you can't be progressive without progress.”

In its recommendations the AASAC said that although Black students make up 22% of student enrollment they make up 52% of suspensions. Black girls were disciplined at a particularly high rate in many school divisions.

“In 30% of Virginia’s school divisions, Black female students are more than three times as likely as their non-Black peers to be suspended (compared to just 9% of school divisions for Black male students),” the council’s memo read.

It also said that students should have open access to advanced coursework, and recommended the state report demographics of gifted programs and specialty academic centers on the DOE’s School Quality Profiles.

“In order to have accountability, you have to have some metrics and you have to have some targets,” said Jim Dyke, a former secretary of education on the AASAC. “You have to basically hold people accountable for meeting those goals.”

The recommendations also included requiring other data to be reported, such as student to teacher racial ratios. Schools should also establish a metric to measure how schools are combating racism and encouraging a “Culturally Responsive and Inclusive school climates.” Each school division should also establish a Culturally Responsive and Inclusive Practices coordinator.

"Virginia has a history of having been built on inequity when we were founded a little over 400 years ago,” Dyke said. “It was built on an inequitable system to be perfectly honest with you...in order for us to overcome that record, we're going to have to take aggressive actions.”

The board also recommended looking at zoning, and advocating for policies outside the direct realm of education.

“We're asking the Board of Education [that] they be strong advocates for addressing other issues beyond education ... such as housing or healthcare, or making sure that our students get a healthy meal at home.”

Many of the council's recommendations can be implemented by the Department of Education but some would need action from the General Assembly.

This report, provided by Virginia Public Radio, was made possible with support from the Virginia Education Association.

Jahd Khalil is a reporter and producer in Richmond.
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