A new bill headed to the Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam’s desk would require teachers to undergo training in cultural competency to get their teaching license in the state.
Identical bills passed through the state’s House of Delegates and Senate on Monday, leaving Northam’s signature as the final step.
The bill requires any person who is applying for a teaching license, as well as any teacher seeking to renew their license from the Virginia Board of Education, to complete training in cultural competency. History and social studies teachers applying for a license would also need an endorsement in African American history.
The legislation also requires the school board to include cultural competency in teacher, principal and superintendent evaluations.
In 2019, Northam formed the Virginia African American History Education Commission. Last summer, it advised that social studies standards should be revised to ensure that Black history and views on major historical events are incorporated into lessons on the nation’s past.
“Even though Virginia led the nation in developing high-quality content standards more than 25 years ago, the standards were tainted with a master narrative that marginalized or erased the presence of non-Europeans from the American landscape,” the commission said in its report.
“We need to realize that we have students that have grandparents that were denied the right to vote because of the color of their skin,” said Del. Schuyler T. VanValkenburg, a Democrat who represents Henrico County and is also a high school history teacher in Richmond.
“African American history is Virginia history. African American history is American history. It is time we fully recognize that,” he said.
Some Republicans opposed the bill, saying there was not a clear legal definition of cultural competency for teachers.
“We are passing a law, and laws of course have legal effect and would have any untold number of legal effects upon teachers, their licenses and their abilities to enter a profession and stay in that profession,” said Del. C. Todd Gilbert, a Republican who represents parts of multiple counties, in a legislative session. “Is there a legal definition in which we can turn and attorneys can turn?”
Del. Clinton Jenkins, a Democrat who represents parts of Chesapeake and Suffolk counties, sponsored one of the bills, and he cited the National Education Association when defining cultural competency.
“Having an awareness of one’s own cultural identity and views about differences and the ability to learn and build on the varying cultures and the community norms of students and their families. It is the ability to understand those groups’ differences and make each student unique,” Jenkins said.
If signed, the law would allow the Virginia Department of Education to define cultural competency.
The fiscal year 2022 budget Northam proposed allots $365,000 to support the law.