By Rasheeda N. Creighton, cofounder of The Jackson Ward Collective, was a member of the inaugural class of Maggie L. Walker Governor’s School for Government and International Studies; James “Jim” W. Dyke, Jr. served as Virginia’s Secretary of Education under former Virginia Gov. L. Douglas Wilder, and as domestic policy advisor to former Vice President Walter Mondale; Rodney A. Jordan serves as a local school board member and on numerous educationfocused councils and boards at the state, regional, and national levels; Makya Renée Little is an alumna of Thomas Jefferson (“TJ”) High School for Science & Technology. She serves as President/CEO of TJ Alumni Action Group, Inc.; Rodney Robinson is a senior policy advisor with Richmond Public Schools in charge of the RVA Men Teach Program. He was the 2019 National Teacher of the Year.
The Interests of African American Students will NOT Be Passed By
RICHMOND – Last week’s vote by the Democratic-led Senate Education and Health committee to effectively kill VA HB2305, a bill aimed at increasing access and opportunity for all students to attend Virginia Governor’s Schools, was the latest in appalling actions of Virginia’s General Assembly continued legacy of Massive Resistance. Statements made by several Democratic senators on Thursday were reminiscent of those made by Senator Harry Flood Byrd in 1954. The parallels of the Virginia legislature’s historical efforts to slow and stall integration of Virginia’s public schools was also alluded to by Senator Mamie Locke who stated, “But there’s always this stonewalling that we’re hearing in here this morning from some of our own members sitting here. That’s what I’m concerned about.”
As African American educational leaders within the Commonwealth, we refuse to have the interests of our community disregarded by a general assembly we helped to elect and those who constantly clamor to receive our vote.
In our various roles—which include award-winning educators, commissioners, corporate and non-profit board members, lawyers, chief executive officers, Governor’s School alumnae, parents, and a former Secretary of Education—we hold positions with responsibilities for advising, informing, and providing professional insight on policy development and accountability for public education in Virginia. Collectively, we serve a unique role in bringing the needs of African American students to the forefront of state decisions to advance racial equity in Virginia’s public schools. Although we typically use our collective voices in an advisory capacity, the egregiousness of last week’s vote to pass HB2305 by indefinitely, killing the bill, has moved us to speak out on behalf of the students who are harmed by our representatives’ complacency.
Thomas Jefferson High School for Science & Technology—the Governor’s School that ranks as No. 1 in the nation and that appeared to be at the heart of Thursday’s debate—has maintained a dismal record on diversity since its establishment in 1985. Policies, processes, and practices that lead to fewer than 2% of African American student representation in a district that is approximately 10% African American are not acceptable. Girls, non-native English speakers, students with disabilities, and low-income students of all races are also grossly underrepresented at Thomas Jefferson. Similar trends are borne out at other Governor’s Schools across the Commonwealth. New policies must be implemented to ensure every student has equal access to these public resources.
In recent decades, African American voters have been one of the most loyal Democratic voting blocks. In the most recent election, 89% of all African American Virginia voters voted Democratic in the presidential election; more than 20% higher than Latinx, Asian, and other racial ethnic groups. It is shameful that Virginia Democrats who benefited disproportionately from African American voters, especially in 2019, betrayed those same voters in striking down the Governor’s Schools bill—a revised bill intended to balance the role of the state with the role of local and regional boards. To disregard the interests of those most faithful to the Democratic Party is an insult. As educational leaders and advisors, we will take this issue to all candidates running in this year’s upcoming election to see where they stand.
There has been talk for decades around this issue, and no further discussion or delay is necessary. Enough is enough. Now is the time for action.
We call on the Democratic Party and its corporate donors to reexamine the candidates they choose to support, especially in this current election cycle. This will be a litmus test of whether or not this party is committed to the interests of their most loyal constituents. We call on the Republican Party and its corporate donors to demonstrate through action your stated belief, “That all individuals are entitled to equal rights, justice, and opportunities…” We will examine each candidate—regardless of party—and support those most responsive to our concerns.
We call on the Virginia Board of Education (VBOE) to move forward with establishing guidelines in collaboration with local school boards for all 19 Governor’s Schools to address pipeline and outreach issues. VBOE should develop best practices for being more inclusive of underserved groups, especially African American students whose talents have been overlooked for far too long.
We call on the governing bodies of the 19 Governor’s Schools to examine deeply their enrollment, admission, and pipeline policies and practices and to lead on this issue.
Lastly, we call on the Office of the Attorney General to launch an investigation—similar to the investigation recently conducted in Loudoun County—into state-wide denial of equal opportunity in Governor’s Schools and gifted education programs on the basis of race. To dismantle systemic racial discrimination, local and state-level school boards must reform policies, invest in minority community outreach, and ensure equitable educational access for African American students. State legislators must support and reward those who do. The modern-day school segregation that has resulted from decades of discriminatory practices is unconstitutional, and opportunities for African American students will be “passed by” no longer.