Virginia superintendents call for end to teacher tip line, collaboration on ‘divisive concepts’ report

An organization representing Virginia’s public school superintendents are calling on Gov. Glenn Youngkin to shut down a teacher tip line that allows parents to report “divisive practices” in schools.

The demand came in a letter from the Virginia Association of School Superintendents to the state’s superintendent of education, calling on the Youngkin administration to collaborate with local educators as it crafts a 90-day report on “divisive concepts” taught in schools, a process underway as part of an executive order Youngkin signed upon taking office in January.

In the letter to State Superintendent Jillian Balow earlier this week, the superintendents group said it believed “gross assumptions have been made, without evidentiary support,” in the development of an interim 30-day report the state released last month.

The letter, signed by VASS President Ben Kiser, comes about three weeks after the report revealed the state’s plans to rescind a series of policies, memos and resources related to diversity, equity and inclusion, noting the materials include “discriminatory and divisive” concepts.

Kiser said that superintendents weren’t consulted during the development of the report and didn’t receive a copy before it was made public.

“When we, as superintendents, saw and read the report, we obviously had questions and concerns about the assumptions that were made, about the premise of the report (and) about the actions that were taken,” Kiser said in an interview.

“Especially with the state superintendent rescinding an awful lot of Ed Equity work that had been done by quality educators for the past three to four years.”

The 30-day report included Department of Education materials, memos, a webinar and a math pilot program as examples of concepts it said it had identified and removed.

The group said in the letter that it disagrees with the assumption that discriminatory and divisive concepts have become widespread in schools, and questioned the report’s use of “equitable opportunities” instead of “equitable outcomes,” noting the state failed to consider the impact such a shift would have on underserved communities.

The association also urged Balow to form a working group to help develop the 90-day report and to have the group clarify the administration’s “understanding of equity, opportunity and access as they relate to serving all children.”

In response to the letter, Balow said in a statement, “The specific requests listed in the letter are actions that the Secretary and I offered to the superintendents as a way to keep open productive channels of communication that could lead to partnership and ensure we are serving all students in Virginia.”

After Balow received the letter, Kiser said, the pair had a conversation about how “we look at this opportunity as a reset for us to move forward.”

Kiser said the organization’s position described in the letter was approved by the 12-member board but not sent to all members for a vote.

“We felt like the board was representative of Virginia, and that our board adopted the letter, and so we sent it on behalf of our members,” Kiser said.

Separately, Kiser said the group is frustrated by the creation of the tip line to report divisive concepts in schools. Such concerns should be handled by local officials, he said.

“It’s offensive to all educators,” Kiser said. “It would be offensive to any other employee group if in fact the governor established a means by which any individual could report a teacher for doing something that he or perceives they might be doing without the conversation at the local level, and even without real evidence that something might be happening.”

Kiser added, “It created a narrative at the governor’s office that is unnecessary and just simply offensive.”

Balow’s statement did not address the superintendents’ demand that the email tip line be terminated.

Education played a large role in Youngkin’s campaign, and after taking office, he signed Executive Order 1, which calls “to end the use of inherently divisive concepts, including Critical Race Theory, and to raise academic standards.” There interim report didn’t identify instances of critical race theory being taught in Virginia schools.

(EDITOR’S NOTE March 14, 2022 – This story has been updated to make clear the letter was adopted by the VASS board but not subject to a vote by all Virginia public superintendents.)

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Scott Gelman

Scott Gelman is a digital editor and writer for WTOP. A South Florida native, Scott graduated from the University of Maryland in 2019. During his time in College Park, he worked for The Diamondback, the school’s student newspaper.

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