The Albemarle County School Board on Thursday reviewed the latest draft of a new anti-racism policy for the division.
In August, Albemarle’s Office of Community Engagement designated a group of students from its three comprehensive high schools to assist in drafting an anti-racism policy. Kimalee Dickerson, an attorney and doctoral student at the University of Virginia’s Curry School of Education, was hired to facilitate the group’s work.
“We are still editing and changing the policy, and we will obviously consider the feedback that you provide tonight,” Dickerson said on Thursday.
The latest version of the anti-racism policy would require county schools to educate employees about the impact of racism on student achievement and learning experiences, and to familiarize them with other School Board policies related to racism.
“Each staff person participating in training will be evaluated on their proficiency levels to measure growth,” the draft policy reads.
Bernard Hairston, Albemarle’s assistant superintendent for school community empowerment, said the school division already provides cultural competency training to all teachers and classified staff.
School Board member Graham Paige asked if the anti-racism policy could require teachers to go through Albemarle’s culturally responsive teaching certification program.
Albemarle’s CRT program is a year-long process in which teachers examine the role of personal cultural heritage and students’ cultural backgrounds in classroom instruction, and learn how to make their teaching more culturally relevant to students. Seventeen teachers have been certified through the program since 2016, and an additional 11 have earned micro-credentials.
“Professional development for cultural competency is kind of scratching the surface,” Hairston said. “Our CRT model requires a much deeper dive and commitment that cannot be mandated.”
The draft policy calls for the creation of a new staff position tasked with overseeing division strategies for implementation, evaluation, and accountability of anti-racism related policies and procedures.
“In a policy like this, I think we can own the fact that we suffer from those conditions, acknowledge that, and say we are not going to accept it anymore. ”
The proposed policy would require administrators at each school to provide an annual report to the School Board with data regarding racial disparities in student achievement, enrollment, student discipline, graduation rates and gifted identification.
School Board member David Oberg said the policy should state clearly that these reports would be made available to the general public, and not just the school board.
“We need to make sure that this is something that we are owning,” Oberg said. “It needs to be out there.”
The proposed policy would recognize the practice of “tracking” students in leveled courses as a form of institutional racism, “when it contributes to racial disparities in student outcomes.”
It would require middle and high schools to offer supplementary coursework or tutoring to students interested in moving to higher level courses.
Paige said supplementary courses should be offered during the summer or online if they are not available at all middle and high schools during the regular school day.
“I hope the policy will include something related to that … in order to make sure all of our students have equal access to everything,” he said.
The policy also would support the implementation of a system allowing students and staff to anonymously report racism and other forms of discrimination in their schools.
If adopted, the anti-racism policy could influence a decision by the School Board on whether to prohibit students from wearing clothing with Confederate imagery. The Charlottesville School Board enacted such a ban earlier this month.
During public comment on Thursday, Charlottesville resident Megan Bloom said that the anti-racism policy would be “absolutely nothing without an explicit ban on racist imagery.”
“We are asking teachers to take on an additional load with this policy,” Bloom added. “We have to compensate them accordingly.”
Over 120 Albemarle parents have shared feedback on a draft of the policy in a survey that was distributed through school PTO email newsletters. Eighty-five percent of respondents agreed that the School Board should adopt the anti-racism policy, Dickerson said.
Gauri Prakash, a Western Albemarle High School student working on the policy, said some survey respondents who opposed it “didn’t think racism was a problem in our schools, and that addressing it created a problem,”
“I just don’t think that’s true,” Prakash said.
Oberg said the policy should be unequivocal about problems of institutional racism in Albemarle County Public Schools.
“[The policy] doesn’t say why we need it,” Oberg said. “In a policy like this, I think we can own the fact that we suffer from those conditions, acknowledge that, and say we are not going to accept it anymore. It puts teeth behind the mechanism.”
The School Board is scheduled to review an updated draft of the anti-racism policy in December.