IWCS critics might get more help from guv than board

Published 3:50 pm Tuesday, December 7, 2021

An overhauled Isle of Wight County School Board, which will have seen four of its five seats change hands by January, is unlikely to appease opponents of the school division’s equity and inclusion movement.

Newly elected Hardy District member Michael Cunningham and three recent appointees to fill unexpired terms surely won’t buck the administration on major policy initiatives, and will outvote new Carrsville District member John Collick if he tries. After running and winning on a platform of opposing the school division’s current direction, he surely will. At minimum, Collick will ensure that nothing by Superintendent Jim Thornton is rubber-stamped, and that School Board meetings will be contentious beyond the public comment periods that have long been lively.

All bets are off next November, when the Windsor and Newport district seats will be on the ballot and the longer-term future of the School Board will be determined.

Until then, the best hope for opponents of the equity and inclusion movement is wholesale reform of the Virginia Department of Education by new Gov. Glenn Youngkin, whose surprise victory last month was due to many factors but none bigger than concern by suburban and rural parents about alleged social engineering in public schools.

When Terry McAuliffe infamously said during a debate that parents shouldn’t have a say in what their children learn in the classroom, Youngkin surged in the polls and never lost the momentum, turning blue Virginia purple again on Nov. 2.

Supporters now have a strong expectation that Youngkin’s Department of Education will reduce the influence of its bureaucrats and restore some confidence and authority in local school boards on hot-button issues like transgender policy and tenets of Critical Race Theory such as “white privilege.”

While IWCS has taken a lot of heat for its equity movement, the truth is that its most controversial pieces have been driven by the state Department of Education since outgoing Gov. Ralph Northam’s blackface scandal in 2019. The 2020 death of George Floyd in Minneapolis heightened a nationwide focus on racial justice, and public education, among many institutions, grappled with its response, and its responsibilities. Northam and Attorney General Mark Herring were especially sensitive given their own prior racial scandals, ushering in a new era of political correctness that critics say went too far.

Youngkin’s administration, especially his secretary of education, will put fresh eyes on the appropriate role of K-12 schools in the push for racial and gender equity. Public schools, which now are being told by the state to invest significant time and resources in the “cultural competency” of their teachers, might well return to reading, writing and arithmetic as core priorities.

 

Steve Stewart is publisher of The Smithfield Times. His email address is steve.stewart@smithfieldtimes.com.