Youngkin administration issues report on ‘divisive concepts’
RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Republican Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s administration has rescinded a series of policies, memos and other resources related to diversity, equity and inclusion that it characterized as “discriminatory and divisive concepts” in the state’s public education system.
In an interim report released Friday, Superintendent of Public Instruction Jillian Balow outlined the initial findings of a search for such “divisive concepts,” including critical race theory, that Youngkin tasked her with as one of his first acts after being sworn in as governor.
The report did not identify any instance of the teaching of critical race theory in the classroom. But it pointed to a range of Department of Education online materials, memos, a webinar and a math pilot program as examples it had identified and was rescinding or evaluating.
Youngkin, who took office in mid-January, campaigned heavily on education issues and specifically on a promise to rid Virginia’s schools of critical race theory, or CRT, which is a way of thinking about America’s history through the lens of racism. It centers on the idea that racism is systemic in the nation’s institutions and that they function to maintain the dominance of white people in society.
He called Friday’s report “the first step in improving Virginia’s education system, restoring high academic expectations, equipping our future generation to be career or college ready, and providing equal opportunities for all Virginia students.”
Democrats have long argued that CRT is not taught in K-12 schools and that the term has been weaponized by Republicans who object more broadly to other diversity or curriculum reform initiatives. They unleashed on Youngkin Friday.
Eileen Filler-Corn, the House minority leader, said the governor was “embracing a bizarre far-right agenda” and engaging in “race-based witch hunts designed to intimidate educators and censor our history.”
Democratic Party of Virginia Chairwoman Susan Swecker said the report “launches a new chapter in Gov. Youngkin’s racist agenda to whitewash Virginia’s history and attempt to cover up the existence of racism in our commonwealth and nation.”
Elicia Brand, a Loudoun County mother and co-founder of the Army of Parents activist group, welcomed the report, which she said shows that Youngkin is keeping his promises to parents like her who are concerned about CRT.
In a letter at the start of the report, Balow wrote that it contained just a “sampling of critical race theory-based materials.”
“However, the concepts have become widespread in the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) and in Virginia school divisions and we will need to proactively review policies, practices, and pedagogies around the state to uphold the Civil Rights Act and comport with Executive Order One,” she said.
One of the priorities Balow’s report said had been rescinded or would be evaluated was a Department of Education initiative called EdEquityVA. A description still available late Friday afternoon on the department’s website described the initiative as the “combined efforts to advance education equity, eliminate achievement gaps and increase opportunity, and decrease disproportionality in student outcomes.”
Balow wrote that numerous resources within EdEquityVA “employ the concept that current discrimination is needed to address past discrimination. (Treating people differently based on skin color to remedy old/previous discrimination.)”
Another initiative highlighted in the report was the Virginia Math Pathways Initiative, which Youngkin had already rescinded by executive order.
The program sought to modernize how math is taught. Critics linked it to critical race theory, though, because early versions of the initiative included some discussion of eliminating options for grade schoolers and middle schoolers to take highly advanced math. Reformers have been critical of accelerated math pathways in part because they believe children don’t thoroughly master the material if they move at too fast of a pace, and because they believe it creates inequities as students of color have historically had less opportunity to participate.
Brand, the Loudoun activist, said she was particularly pleased to see the Math Pathways Initiative scrapped. She said it’s false progress for a program to purport to eliminate an achievement gap by simply holding back high-achieving students.
“That’s discrimination,” she said. “What they should be doing is lifting up all students.”
The 19-page report was overdue. Youngkin’s executive order asked for it 30 days after Jan. 15.
The Associated Press filed a Freedom of Information Act request for the document and was told late Thursday afternoon by an Education Department official that it was “still currently being developed.” The report was dated Wednesday.
Under Youngkin’s executive order, another report is due in about two months identifying any “necessary executive and legislative actions needed to end use of all inherently divisive concepts in public education.”
The Democrat-controlled state Senate has not looked favorably upon much of Youngkin’s education agenda during the ongoing legislative session, and among the measures the chamber has killed was one aimed at critical race theory.