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Board of Education presses pause on new history standards

Governor Glenn Youngkin addresses the Board of Education Wednesday.
Va. Dept. of Education livestream
Governor Glenn Youngkin addresses the Board of Education Wednesday.

The Department of Education has been working on the revamped history standards since January 2021, something it has to do by law every seven years.

It took in some 5,000 public comments and consulted more than 200 teachers, administrators, students, parents, museum professionals and historians.

One of them was University of Richmond professor Ed Ayers, who encouraged the board to move the new standards forward and beyond just memorization of names and dates. "We have a chance in Virginia to move beyond that," Ayers said, "to lead the nation in the sort of inquiry based learning in social studies that we have long used in science and business education."

But the new state superintendent Jillian Balow said the standards included some serious errors and omissions and she recommended more review from both new board members and national sources, in addition to already planned public hearings on the draft.

Balow’s boss, Governor Glenn Youngkin, made an unannounced appearance at Wednesday’s meeting and told the board Virginia can set an education standard for the country. "I want us to teach all of our history in Virginia, the good and the bad. We have an extraordinary history," he said.

A majority of the current board members were appointed by Youngkin just this summer. And most said they agreed with Balow’s recommendation for a one-month delay. "The media's going to portray this as left-right or too woke or not woke," new board member Andy Rotherham said. "When I look at the concerns I have, they run across the gamut of different kinds of issues."

Other board members said they had concerns about the content of the standards. Indeed, even returning board member, and former state Secretary of Education, Anne Holton said the standards did not include enough detail about Virginia's history of segregation and its impacts. But she suggested those concerns could be addressed while keeping the process moving forward.

Board president Dan Gecker expressed concern that delays would mean the process would not be complete by the end of the calendar year, satisfying the seven-year requirement set by the General Assembly. Ultimately, he agreed to a one-month delay while simultaneously having the department plan for public input sessions in the fall.

The board will come back to the issue in its September meeting. "It's more important to get it right, than get it right on time," board member Suparna Dutta said.

The board did adopt initial guidelines for setting up lab schools. The proposed timeline shows the first schools opening in the fall of 2023.

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

David Seidel is Radio IQ's News Director.