ACPS anti-racism policy written and supported by students

Published: Jul. 21, 2021 at 5:50 PM EDT
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ALBEMARLE COUNTY, Va. (WVIR) - Albemarle County school leaders are defending the district’s anti-racism policies and programming, saying it’s an effort led by students.

This comes following confusion from parents and guardians about what is being taught during a program called “Courageous Conversations,” piloted at Henley Middle School.

Graham Paige, the county’s school board chair, said he’s heard both sides of the argument from parents during board meetings.

“Some are saying that we’re trying to divide the students, that we’re trying to promote racial hatred, and then others, in fact, really the majority I think, are really saying that they support the program and that they can see the importance of the program in our schools,” he explained.

Julie Govan, a parent at Henley, said she’s heard concerns from parents about students being too young to learn about certain race and identity topics. While she said she understands, she’s supportive of the program.

“Kids don’t wait to be told when to have conversations. That means that we’re basically forced to choose between two things: Kids having these conversations without support from informed adults who have training or kids having conversations without support from informed adults,” Govan said. “If I have to choose the two, I’m always going to prefer the informed teacher that’s leading the conversation or managing the conversation or sailing in to prevent harm to a student when a conversation goes wrong and kids decide the want to run with it. ”

Paige said in prior meetings, several parents claimed the program taught Critical Race Theory, or CRT. In a letter, the board stated that was false.

The district does, however, have a program called “Culturally Responsive Teaching,” also known as CRT, meant for teachers, that goes hand-in-hand with the district’s anti-racism policy.

“We’re trying to make sure that all of our students recognize the importance of all other racial groups and the contributions of all racial groups,” Paige said.

The anti-racism policy it coincides with was written by students back in 2018 and was officially adopted in 2019. The district was one of the first in the commonwealth to do so.

Now, policy is both shaped and supported by students, including Mary Govan, a rising junior at Albemarle High.

“As an Asian American, I can’t escape these topics and I need my teachers and peers to know how to have these conversations with me when I’m around, and feel safe having them,” Govan said at a board meeting on June 10.

Govan is a member of the county’s Student Equity Advisory Team (SEAT).

“It gives a possibility for everyone to express who they are and what they have to offer,” Govan said.

Karen Waters-Wicks, who helps facilitate SEAT, said it’s all student-driven, dating back to the inception of the anti-racism policy.

“They thought, as the authors of this policy, that students continue to have a voice in this work,” Waters-Wicks said.

Paige said the district has no intention of rolling back its anti-racism policy. He said it does work to help close close achievement gaps among different groups of students and makes students feel more comfortable in school.

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