The Albemarle County School Board moved closer to approving a new anti-racism policy at a work session on Thursday, but it continued to draw criticism from local anti-racist activists.
The School Board directed staff to begin developing an anti-racism policy in July. The direction came after numerous parents and community members affiliated with the Hate-Free Schools Coalition of Albemarle County demanded the board to combat racism with a ban on Confederate imagery on school property.
A group of eight high school students has drafted the policy over several months with assistance from the school system’s Office of Community Engagement.
“Our school system, and the American public education system, is not as equitable as I thought it was before,” said Rajaah Alagib, a senior at Albemarle High School who worked on the policy.
“This policy is not attempting to solve everything, but it is taking small ideas and moving them forward.”
Kimalee Dickerson, an attorney and doctoral student at the University of Virginia’s Curry School of Education, was hired to facilitate the students’ work.
“We have continually tried to balance keeping the regulations broad, yet specific enough to be held accountable,” Dickerson said.
During public comment on Thursday, several people critiqued the latest draft of the policy for not explicitly banning Confederate imagery from schools, and for not including more information about racism in Albemarle County’s history.
“This policy has far to go and would benefit immensely from more community involvement,” said Emily Kingsley, a Samuel Miller District resident.
The Hate-Free Schools Coalition members criticized the School Board’s handling of public comment at meetings this year.
In the summer, the School Board adjourned a work session early when members of the audience spoke out of turn and snapped their fingers during public comment. At the following School Board meeting on Aug. 30, police broke up a protest and arrested several people at the County Office Building on McIntire Road.
“We are in danger of being arrested if we come to speak at a School Board meeting to share our thoughts,” said Amanda Moxham, a co-founder of Hate-Free Schools.
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School Board members and Superintendent Matt Haas weighed in on the sixth revision of the anti-racism policy during Thursday’s work session.
The latest draft of the policy calls for the creation of a new staff position to oversee the implementation and evaluation of anti-racism policies and procedures. However, Haas said decisions about the division’s administrative staffing usually are made by superintendents and members of their cabinets.
“Traditionally, we do not have our policies say, “we are going to have a person hired for this,” Haas said.
School Board member David Oberg said he was in favor of creating the new position and suggested that it report directly to the School Board instead of the superintendent.
“I fully trust Dr. Haas, but superintendents change,” Oberg said. “I don’t think I’ll be [on the School Board] for the next superintendent, and I’m not sure if I trust them to take this policy seriously.”
The proposed policy also aims to address institutional racism associated with the practice of “tracking” students in leveled courses.
The proposed policy would require training for administrators, teachers and counselors on the relationship between tracking and racial disparities in student outcomes, and the role of implicit bias in class assignments. It also would require middle and high schools to offer supplementary coursework for students interested in moving into higher-level classes.
Haas said he believed students should have a chance to sign up for classes at their desired level before a teacher or counselor recommends otherwise.
“What if we didn’t have recommendations to begin with?” Haas said. “This is a good conversation. I think we need to really examine that practice — what the intentions were, and what the consequences were with regards to empowering families.”
The Albemarle County School Board’s next regular meeting is scheduled for Jan. 10.