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Legal & Employment Guidance

Know Your Rights: Virginia

What educators should know about Governor Youngkin's Executive Order on Critical Race Theory
Published: July 1, 2023

Lawmakers and policy makers across our country, in yet another attempt to divide Americans along partisan and racial lines, are pushing legislation that seeks to stifle discussions in public schools that celebrate our country’s greatest triumphs and examine our darkest moments, attempting to restrict students’ freedom to learn from the past and make a better future. These legislators are working hard to censor classroom discussions on topics like race, racism, sex, sexism or inequity.

But despite the rhetoric around them, these proposed or enacted laws do not prohibit teaching the full sweep of U.S. history, including teaching about nearly 250 years of chattel slavery, the Civil War, the Reconstruction period, or the violent white supremacy that brought Reconstruction to an end and has persisted in one or another form ever since. Nor should these laws and policies undermine efforts to ensure that all students, including historically marginalized students, feel seen in the classroom and benefit from culturally responsive and racially inclusive curricula and pedagogical tools that teach the truth about our country and prepare students to meet the demands of a changing and increasingly globalized world.

In Virginia, these censorship efforts have resulted in Gov. Youngkin signing an executive order instructing the Superintendent of Public Instruction to review various state resources and remove any endorsement or promotion of certain divisive concepts. The following answers some FAQ’s about the executive order. If you or a colleague feel your ability to teach the truth is stifled by how your district is interpreting or enforcing the order, you can take action. Remember that you are most protected when you speak out outside of work, at a school board meeting, in your church, or other local community group. If you are a member of a union, reach out to your local representative for assistance. You can find additional help at the resources linked below.

These dangerous attempts to stoke fears and rewrite history not only diminish the injustices experienced by generations of Americans, they prevent educators from challenging our students to achieve a more equitable future.

Becky Pringle, President, National Education Association

Teach Truth Q&A

What is Executive Order 1 and what does it do?

On Jan. 15, 2022, Gov. Youngkin’s first day in office, he signed Executive Order 1, “Ending the use of inherently divisive concepts, including critical race theory, and restoring excellence in K-12 public education in the Commonwealth.” The order is here and went into effect immediately.

The order directs the Superintendent of Public Instruction to review various parts of Virginia’s curriculum and education programs and revise, rescind, or end any parts that promote any of the following concepts:

  • “members of one race, ethnicity, sex or faith cannot and should not attempt to treat others as individuals without respect to race, sex or faith” (their “protected characteristics”); and
  • “one race, skin color, ethnicity, sex, or faith is inherently superior to another race, skin color, ethnicity, sex, or faith;” and
  • an individual,
    • by virtue of their protected characteristics, “is racist, sexist, or oppressive, whether consciously or subconsciously;” or
    • by virtue of their protected characteristics, bears responsibility for actions committed in the past by other members of the same race, ethnicity, sex or faith; or
    • “should be discriminated against or receive adverse treatment solely or partly because of” their protected characteristics; or
    • has their “moral character … inherently determined by” their protected characteristics; and
  • “meritocracy or traits, such as a hard work ethic, are racist or sexist or were created by a particular race to oppress another race.”

The order also directs the Superintendent of Public Instruction to raise the standards in K-12 education and increase transparency, prioritize reading and math, ensure that reading and math proficiency standard exams are rigorous in comparison to testing standards across the country, increase the number of Governor’s Schools, provide parents with greater access to information about the materials in their schools, provide a timely and respectful manner to address parent concerns or complaints, and review or modify existing cultural competency training to remove any endorsement of the divisive concepts.

On Feb. 23, 2022, the Superintendent sent an interim report, available here, to Gov. Youngkin and the Secretary of Education, rescinding numerous policies, programs, and resources, including

  • All resources on Virginia’s EdEquityVA website;
  • Superintendent’s Memo 280-20, the Diversity, Equity, Inclusion Audit Tool;
  • Superintendent’s Memo 309-20, Navigating EdEquityVA: Virginia’s Roadmap to Equity;
  • All Resources on Virginia Dep’t of Education’s (“VDOE”) Culturally Responsive Website;
  • Superintendent’s Memo #050-19; and
  • Teaching 9/11 EdEquityVA Web Series.

The Superintendent also partially rescinded:

  • Virginia L.E.A.R.N.S.; and
  • Virginia Math Pathways Initiative

Can I still teach the truth about US history and current American society?

Through the order and Superintendent’s response, Virginia has rescinded numerous programs related to diversity and equity, but, at this time, the state has not changed Virginia’s History and Social Science Standards of Learning. 1 The standards still require instruction on slavery, the Civil Rights Movement, and important figures including Martin Luther King, Jr., Rosa Parks, and Thurgood Marshall.

As always, you should never teach that any sex or race is inherently superior or inferior. Many state and federal laws prohibit discriminating against students based on race, color, national origin, sex, disability, and religion.

What if my students ask about current events that raise issues of systemic racism?

As an educator, you know how to handle difficult questions in professional and age-appropriate ways. o If you are planning discussions about current events that raise racial issues, be sure your curriculum is age-appropriate and aligned with state standards and past practice. You may want to notify or get approval from your administration as well if a particular instructional approach is likely to be controversial in your classroom or the community.

What if there is a racial incident, or an incident motivated by racism, in the school?

Nothing in the new law erases your school district’s federal and state law obligations to enforce anti-bullying and nondiscrimination policies and laws in schools. Your school district likely has a policy in place to address such incidents. Provided you are responding in a way that is in line with that policy, your conduct should be protected.

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