Parents, Teachers Fight Virginia School Board’s Attempt To Ban Discussion Of ‘White Privilege’

Parents, Teachers Fight Virginia School Board’s Attempt To Ban Discussion Of ‘White Privilege’

A policy proposed by the Loudoun County School Board would keep teachers from challenging the board's positions on racial equity and sexual orientation, even in teachers' private lives.
Elle Reynolds
By

LOUDOUN COUNTY, Va. — Monica Gill has been teaching Loudoun County students for 18 years. The high school social science teacher is used to teaching about the U.S. Constitution. But this time, it’s the Loudoun County School Board learning its lesson.

“I thought my job was to give kids different perspectives, to give them tools to think for themselves,” Gill told the school board at their public meeting on Tuesday. “But I wonder now if I’m supposed to be a teacher or an indoctrinator.”

In Loudoun County, the richest county in America, the school board tried to introduce a code of conduct for employees that would prohibit speech that is “not in alignment with the school division’s commitment to action-oriented equity practices.”

Additionally, speech that could be interpreted as “undermining the views, positions, goals, policies or public statements of the Loudoun County School Board or its Superintendent” would be silenced, when it could be construed as “disrupting the efficiency” of the school system.

The policy doesn’t just attempt to limit employees’ speech in their official capacities. It also claims to prohibit any private speech, including (but not limited to) speech on their personal social media or private conversations that goes against the school board and the superintendent’s positions.

What are those positions? For one, Superintendent Eric Williams’ website urges “all students, staff, families, and other members of our community to engage in the disruption and dismantling of white supremacy, systemic racism, and hateful language and actions based on race, religion, country of origin, gender identity, sexual orientation, and/or ability.”

If a Christian teacher expresses disapproval of homosexuality on the basis of her religious beliefs, or if a teacher questions whether white supremacy really exists in the Loudoun County Public School system, they might well find themselves in violation of this policy.

“When you dig down under the layers, look at who they’re paying to do their equity training, it really is rooted in critical race theory,” Gill said in an interview with the Federalist. Loudoun County schools have spent more than $400,000 on an “equity audit” from Equity Collaborative, a consulting firm that operates on the assumption that “racism controls the political, social, and economic realms of U.S. society.”

The policy would also require teachers to report each other’s speech to the school authorities.

Community backlash was swift and furious. “It is greatly troubling to me that a governmental entity would try to squelch the free flow of ideas that is the bedrock of our constitutional republic,” wrote Leesburg resident Thomas Cavallo in a letter to local news outlet Loudoun Now.

Other members of the community, like Gill, showed up at the school board meeting on Tuesday to express their concern. “The standards of conduct are a constitutional minefield,” said one man during the public comment period. “You’re on the verge of becoming national news and not in a good way,” another community member warned during the meeting.

Gill says most of the teachers she’s talked with have raised their eyebrows as well. Parents have also emailed her since the school board meeting, thanking her for speaking up about the policy. “I thought my job was to present kids with alternative perspectives, to give them the tools so that they can think for themselves,” Gill said. “That is not what many of us see happening right now with the policies and the decisions that our county is putting forward.”

The backlash to the policy convinced the school board to send it back to committee. Even the left-leaning teachers’ union stepped in and opposed the policy, Gill said. “The important principles of American political culture like free speech still mean something to people,” she added. “When there are those who would tread on that, there are enough of us on the left or the right who would be willing to stand up and say, this is not right.”

“Reaction from the community was uniformly negative,” said Ian Serotkin, a member of the school board.

But the policy isn’t gone for good. After more revisions, it will come up for a vote by the school board again. Jeff Morse, another member of the school board, says he expects a heavily edited version of the policy to pass.

Gill expects the board to reword its policy but doesn’t necessarily expect that to change how the eventual policy is implemented. “Even if they change the wording, they’re not going to change the heart of what they really want to do,” she said. “And that is, push this agenda and silence any other opposing opinion or competing claim.”

Still, Gill says the threat of the policy won’t change the way she teaches. “I’m not going to stop having kids look at and evaluate competing claims, and critical race theory and their equity policy is a competing claim,” she said. “If critical race theory is such a superior idea, then why do they need to silence any other competing claims? In a free society superior ideas should be allowed to rise on their merit.”

“I’m not going to be silenced, even with a looming threat,” she adds. “I think it would be a dereliction of my duty as a teacher to just capitulate.”

Elle Reynolds is an intern at the Federalist, and a senior at Patrick Henry College studying government and journalism. You can follow her work on Twitter at @_etreynolds.

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