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Albemarle School Board backs Henley, anti-racism policy in joint statement following uproar

After several weeks of criticism from parents concerned about the division’s equity efforts and a series of lessons piloted at Henley Middle School, the Albemarle County School Board and schools Superintendent Matt Haas said in a joint statement that they support the school’s work.

“We applaud the school’s staff and its students for their participation in a program that will allow the school division to learn from this experience,” the joint statement read. “We value the input from parents that led to revisions in the lesson plans. This was an activity faithful to the call for action in our anti-racism policy.”

This past spring, Henley teachers piloted a series of anti-bias lessons, which walked students through discussions about race, identity, culture, bias and empathy with readings, activities and question prompts. The lessons were, in part, an answer to the division’s anti-racism policy that was adopted in 2019, which calls for the creation of an anti-racist curriculum.

Parents who have spoken at meetings criticized the anti-racism policy and said the Henley lessons overstepped the school’s role, discriminated against their children who hold different beliefs and created divisions among students. They’ve called for a pause to the anti-bias lessons, a review of those lessons and for a rollback of the anti-racism policy.

The three-page statement from the board and Haas reaffirms the goals and provisions of the anti-racism policy, including eliminating the achievement gap, reducing demographic disparities in school programs and responding to student reports of racial harassment and bullying.

“These are non-negotiables,” the statement read. “We are firmly committed to achieving these outcomes and to supporting the inclusive programs and activities that make this possible. We welcome all points of view in how best to strengthen our continuous growth model, and we reject all efforts that would have us resist positive change in favor of the status quo.”

All board members and Haas signed the statement dated July 12.

A group of students drafted the anti-racism policy over the course of several meetings in 2018 and early 2019. The policy has become a point of pride for the division.

The policy is designed to eliminate all forms of racism in the school system and focuses that effort on five categories — policy communication; leadership and administration; curriculum and instruction; professional learning and training; and policy enforcement. Implementation began in fall 2019.

The recent criticism lobbed at Henley came as the policy started to make its way into classrooms.

Several parents have suggested that the lessons and the anti-racism policy are founded on Critical Race Theory, which is an academic framework that argues racism is embedded in legal systems and policies.

“Adding Critical Race Theory to our curricula has not occurred, nor are there any plans to do so,” the statement read. “Reports to the contrary are false.”

Rather, CRT in the Albemarle County school division refers to culturally responsive teaching, the statement pointed out. The division has offered a certification in culturally responsive teaching practices since 2016 and later added a micro-credential. Starting in this coming school year, all new teachers will be required to complete either of the CRT training programs within three years.

The public pushback to the Henley pilot started at the School Board’s May 27 meeting. Board members backed Henley administrators in brief comments at the board’s June 10 meeting, but otherwise, they have not publicly commented on the lessons or criticisms.

Division spokesman Phil Giaramita said gathering all of the signatures took a bit of time as it became clear that all board members and Haas wanted to sign the statement. The board is still meeting virtually.

Giaramita said that as some parents started to call for the anti-racism policy to be revoked, “board members felt it necessary to make clear their commitment to fairness and equity in educational opportunities and in healthy relationships within schools.”

School staff members are reviewing the Henley pilot as part of a curriculum that will be written for middle school students. Giaramita said the curriculum will go to the School Board for approval.

Source: www.dailyprogress.com

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