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Video: In VA State Senate Debate on “Governor’s School” Bill, Opponents Argue We Don’t Live in Color-Blind Society; Proponents Argue that Fairfax County Discriminates Against Asian-American Students

Sen. Ghazala Hashmi: "We are still, sadly, grappling with the concerns of a racial society" Sen. Chap Petersen: "I didn't break any new ground with this language...Basically, it copies the Civil Rights Act"

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See below for video of the debate and 26-13 vote yesterday in the VA State Senate on the “substitute” legislation for HB127, on admission criteria for academic year Governor’s Schools. The “substitute” is very short, simply states that:

  • No academic year Governor’s School or governing board member, director, administrator, or employee thereof shall discriminate against any individual or group on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin in the process of admitting students to such school.”
  • Each local school board that jointly manages and controls a regional academic year Governor’s school pursuant to § 22.1-26 shall collaborate to ensure that each public middle school that is eligible to send students to attend such Governor’s school offers coursework, curriculum, and instruction that is comparable in content and in rigor in order to provide each student in each such middle school with the opportunity to gain admission to and excel academically at such Governor’s school.”

For the debate and vote on this substitute language, see the following video, including speeches by Senators Ghazala Hashmi, Mark Obenshain, Jennifer McClellan, Scott Surovell, Mamie Locke and Chap Petersen. Following the video, I’ve included a brief summary of each person’s argument.

  • Sen. Ghazala Hashmi: “We are still, sadly, grappling with the concerns of a racial society…our schools are largely still segregated in Virginia, and so it is rather challenging to say that we’re going to have a race-blind process when we’re taking a look at the students that are working their ways through our governor’s schools…A holistic approach to admissions is necessary…”
  • Sen. Mark Obenshain: “In defeating this bill, we’d be taking a big step backwards. We strive towards a color-blind society here in this country…a federal judge struck down the practices…that left Asian-American students disproportionally deprived of a level playing field…This is about kids, not depriving them of an opportunity that they’ve earned…”
  • Sen. Jennifer McClellan: “I’m not sure [the substitute] does anything…other than provide a talking point for an issue that frankly is being used to stir disagreement. The fact is…we don’t live in a color-blind society…there are students, not because of their race, but because of disadvantages their communities have faced based on race-based policies of the past, our Governor’s schools do not reflect the full diversity of  the Commonwealth of Virginia…That is the actual problem we need to solve…”
  • Sen. Scott Surovell: “The admissions program that was  ultimately proposed was because the school as it was playing out wasn’t really representing the entire county, and I’m not talking about race…about 30% of the admissions out of that school every single year came from two middle schools…I read the opinion by the judge, and I agree the judge cherry-picked  a couple emails…I’m sure the 4th Circuit and probably the US Supreme Court is going to have something to say about this at the end of the day…I would just note that the system that the county ended up choosing to adopt is effectively the same system that Ivy League schools have switched over to…one other Virginia proposed a system just like this…Thomas Jefferson…[This bill] is not necessary…[and] disappointing to me, because taxpayers are paying for this, and every child ought to be able to have a chance to get in, and not just because they happen to have wealthy parents who can figure the system out, or go to the right school…with the fanciest teachers and get in easily, which is basically what has developed in…Northern Virginia over the last couple decades.”
  • Sen. Mamie Locke: Students and alumni from these schools pushed for these policy changes, because of what they felt was “the lack of diversity at their schools, and they wanted change…and the sky has not fallen as a consequence of change.” Also, standards have NOT fallen because of the changes made or because of increased diversity, “because you put in some color at these schools.” “We have not even given it an opportunity to see the change that has occurred…I’m not even sure what this piece of legislation is trying to do…”
  • Sen. David Suetterlein: “I don’t think that [Jefferson’s] views on education were all that great…I was also distressed to hear the characterization of who these young people going to Thomas Jefferson High School were…a lot of these folks were very bright young people, who came from families that were strivers, that worked incredibly hard and not through personal connections but through personal achievement were in a position to get that admission…and several of them have gone on to do great things.”
  • Sen. Chap Petersen: “I realize this is a contentious issue…I didn’t break any new ground with this language…Basically, it copies the Civil Rights Act. This is the Civil Rights Act…We’re saying you can’t discriminate based on race. Does anyone have a problem with that? Seriously?…[Sen. Surovell is correct], you *can* use neutral criteria…you can say the top one or two students from this school…What you can’t do is with the intention to limit one racial group. And that’s what happened in Fairfax County in 2020. I’ve heard seven speakers testify so far on this floor. Noone has talked about what this issue is really about, and that was limiting the number of Asian Americans at Thomas Jefferson School of Science and Technology. Let me repeat that…Yes, I’m sorry, you can shake your head…It was meant to discriminate against Asian Americans…That’s illegal under federal law…every child should be free to be in a school system free of discrimination…”
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