After scandals, Virginia schools must address racism, state superintendent says

Closed lockers in a school hallway. (Getty Images/iStockphoto/Drew Bloksberg)

WASHINGTON — With Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam trying to move past an admission he once wore blackface, the state’s superintendent of public instruction sent a message to school systems to address “dialogue around race, racism and bigotry, following the unacceptable and hurtful events that we learned about over the past few weeks.”

The letter from James Lane on Friday said students are being “inundated with racist images linked to Virginia’s history of civil rights oppression.”

Lane is part of the Northam administration, appointed to the position last spring by the governor.

“The recent revelations from some of our leaders have left our communities hurt and left our students seeking deeper understanding,” the letter to local school division superintendents said. “From our vantage point as educators, we must all join together to renew our commitment to equity and the elimination of racism of any kind from our public school experience.”

The letter included a number of links to lesson plans and other resources that can be used to teach about racism, blackface and trauma in schools, along with book recommendations such as “White Fragility” by Robin DiAngelo and “Between the World and Me” by Ta-Nehisi Coates.

“As educators, we can work together to shift the conversation from hate and hurt toward understanding and respect in our communities,” Lane wrote.

The letter also acknowledged “racially insensitive activities and behaviors” in schools across the commonwealth. There have been issues raised, ranging from Confederate flags to a “game” Loudoun County acknowledged as inappropriate that was meant to portray the underground railroad.

“We encourage division superintendents to work with your faculty and school leaders to ensure that lessons are designed with racial sensitivity and cultural competence in mind,” Lane’s letter said.

“Finally, when students or staff engage in inappropriate and unprofessional conduct, we encourage your teams to take appropriate action to make it clear that racism will not be tolerated in our public schools and know that we will support your efforts,” the letter continued.

Given separate accusations of sexual assault against Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax that he denies and other issues facing local school systems, Lane’s letter promised additional information with guidance and resources about promoting healthy relationships and preventing physical, sexual and emotional violence in student relationships.

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