The Virginia Board of Education last week approved a new set of standards for history and social science curriculum after delays by the board and public pushback over the proposals.
The standards were unanimously approved following allegations from the public of "whitewashing" history and after former superintendent of public instruction Jillian Balow requested more time for five new board members appointed by Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin to review the draft.
While Virginia routinely reviews its standards at least every seven years, the most recent review process and resulting changes have garnered extra attention since Youngkin campaigned largely around anti-CRT laws that opponents say restrict instruction on race and history.
Youngkin's first executive order as governor banned "the use of inherently divisive concepts, including critical race theory."
"Political indoctrination has no place in our classrooms," he said in the order issued Jan. 15, 2022. Divisive concepts, he added, "instruct students to only view life through the lens of race and presumes that some students are consciously or unconsciously racist, sexist, or oppressive, and that other students are victims."
The order tasked the state's superintendent of public instruction, who is currently Lisa Coons, with using the state’s regular curriculum re-evaluation process to eliminate these "inherently divisive concepts."
The newly approved standards combine parts of two previous drafts, one of which was written largely under the former Gov. Ralph Northam's administration, which leaned liberal, and another draft that was proposed under Youngkin.
However, opponents have said these changes limit classroom discussions around race and Black history. In a letter opposing the proposed standards, Fairfax County Public Schools Superintendent Michelle Reid said they would result in "rote memorization for the sake of content coverage."
The Virginia Education Association also opposed the new standards in a rally outside the Virginia Department of Education last week.
"These revised history standards fail at every level. Our children deserve better than what the Board of Education is offering them." Dr. James J. Fedderman, speaking at a rally outside the VDOE. pic.twitter.com/8krKcdvC09— Virginia Education Association (@VEA4Kids) April 19, 2023
"These revised history standards fail at every level. Our children deserve better than what the Board of Education is offering them," said VEA President James Fedderman, speaking at the rally.
Coons, on the other hand, said in a statement the standards are a step in "restoring excellence, curiosity and excitement around teaching and learning history."
The disagreement over the passage of the standards is a culmination of years of disagreement between conservatives and liberals over what should be taught in the classroom and how — both within Virginia and, more broadly, the nation.
Dan Gecker, the Virginia Board of Education president, said the new standards "represent a balance between content knowledge and inquiry.”