What should “equity” look like in the Loudoun County, Virginia, public school system? The school board is getting closer to putting it in words.
In the past two years, Loudoun County’s School Board has codified several policies aimed at reducing discrimination, combating systemic racism and protecting the rights of transgender students. Many of the policies have been the subject of fierce debate by attendees at school board meetings.
The new draft policy — currently entitled “Commitment to Equity” — which came out of the board’s equity committee, is based around many of those existing plans.
During Tuesday’s board meeting, there were discussions about the extent to which a policy aimed, in part, at closing opportunity gaps should focus specifically on reading and literacy, as well as the extent to which the draft may duplicate existing policies.
Lottie Spurlock, who was appointed Loudoun County’s director of equity in July 2019, said the board’s equity committee, which was also formed in 2019, decided a specific equity policy was also necessary.
“With all of these things in place, and changes and revisions that have taken place since 2019 … the question is: Do we still need a policy? And there was a resounding yes, from the committee,” Spurlock told the full board Tuesday.
“Yes, we have plans, we have frameworks, we have documents,” she said, but committee members also thought the school system would “need something that is sort of like the umbrella policy that would pull it all together. So this speaks to a commitment to the work. And it would say that the board and the school system are committed to all of the equitable actions as outlined in the multiple plans and frameworks.”
The proposed equity policy says it aims to value diversity of students, families and employees, and that the school system is “dedicated to fostering student-centered learning environments that affirm cultural identities; positive academic outcomes; develop students’ abilities to connect across lines of difference, and elevate historically marginalized voices.” It also aims to recruit a diverse workforce and create an “equitable learning environment.”
The policy states: “The LCSB believes that every student matters, and in particular, that educational outcomes should never be predictable by any individual’s actual or perceived personal characteristics, and that equity demands intentional focus and attention to eliminate all gaps (resource and opportunity) in student achievement.”
Denise Corbo, an at-large member of the board who runs a nonprofit focused on children’s literacy, asked whether the policy should include more of a specific focus on closing literacy gaps.
“If kids can’t read, they’re not going to be able to access those opportunities,” Corbo said. “And I’m wondering if that was addressed in the committee and part of the policy?”
Spurlock replied that the policy suggests eliminating all gaps. “So, it would cover that, but literacy was not directly and explicitly discussed and stated.”
Board member Harris Mahedavi, who represents the Ashburn District, concurred with the push to emphasize literacy as a priority in closing educational gaps.
“There’s so many aspects of this,” Mahedevi said of the overall equity policy. “I have a little concern about it just capturing everything.”
He applauded the aim of creating a welcoming, affirming environment in schools. But, he added, “Literacy and reading is so essential for a child’s success … I believe that literacy should be the first and foremost thing that we tackle.”
Board member Ian Serotkin, who represents the Blue Ridge District, noted the similarity of several provisions to existing policies, and said the action items suggested by the draft policy may be better taken up as part of the board’s strategic planning process.
The board didn’t take any action on the equity plan, but Board Chair Brenda Sheridan, who represents the Sterling District, said the measure would come back for a vote Dec. 14.
WTOP’s Neal Augenstein contributed to this report.