6 Things Alexandria Schools Prioritized Before Getting Students Back In Classrooms

6 Things Alexandria Schools Prioritized Before Getting Students Back In Classrooms

ACPS failed to return students to their classrooms until August 2021, but that doesn't mean the school board stopped pushing partisan agendas.
Elle Reynolds
By

Voters will have the chance to oust members of the Alexandria City School Board on Nov. 2, in one of the woke Northern Virginia school districts that have angered parents with COVID closures, racist curriculum, deteriorating outcomes, and rank mismanagement.

In conjunction with Superintendent Gregory Hutchings, the school board failed to return students to their classrooms until August 2021, 17 months after COVID-19 prompted shutdowns and closures throughout the United States, and more than a full year after peer nations returned their children to in-person learning. However, that doesn’t mean the school board stopped pushing partisan political agendas and priorities.

Here are six things the school board and Hutchings did have time to accomplish before bringing students back into their classrooms.

1. Published Racist ‘Resources’

Over the summer, Alexandria City Public Schools (ACPS) created and published multiple webpages that promote materials that judge groups of people based on skin color and encourage fringe political dogma.

One page, “Teaching Racial Justice,” promotes “How To Be An Antiracist” by Ibram X. Kendi, in which Kendi argues, “The only remedy to past discrimination is present discrimination. The only remedy to present discrimination is future discrimination.” It also advertises “White Fragility” by Robin DiAngelo, “White Rage” by Carol Anderson, “White Teachers Need Anti-Racist Therapy” by Bettina Love, and “Why Teaching Grit Is Inherently Anti-Black” by Love.

Another page that ACPS has since hidden for non-registered users encourages parents to “let go of colorblindness” and “ensure your kids are aware of race.” Among other things, it promotes a Forbes article that suggests articles like “White People Have No Culture” and a Medium article encouraging readers to donate to local Black Lives Matter chapters, ask their representatives to decriminalize marijuana, ask their representatives to ban voter ID laws, join their local “white space,” and ask their high school to teach a mandatory class on “white privilege.”

Although parents and some challengers in the school board race blasted such “political indoctrination,” the school board was almost universally silent in response to The Federalist’s requests for comment at the time.

2. Allowed Paid Babysitting In School Buildings

Although Alexandria public schools remained largely closed to students for nearly a year and a half, the school district’s “Virtual Plus+” model included letting community organizations that charge for their babysitting services come into the otherwise closed schools.

“We want to be able to partner with all of our community partners such as our child care providers in the area like Campagna, our Rec and Parks program, and some of our community partners like the Alexandria Soccer Foundation, just so that we’re providing childcare options for our families,” Hutchings said at the beginning of the 2020-2021 school year.

The Alexandria Soccer Foundation’s website does not list how much it charges parents for its child care, but a “Frequently Asked Questions” page notes the program cost is approximately double that of the fixed costs of running the program. A 2019 document from Campagna for a before and after school program indicates the organization charges up to $605 per month for the first enrolled child and $302 for each additional child.

“It’s a bit surprising that they do think it’s safe enough for kids to go to child care in their buildings, but just not with their teachers,” parent Jennifer Gibbons told a local CBS affiliate at the time.

3. Bought Matching T-Shirts

In the same June board meeting, Superintendent Hutchings and most of the board appeared in matching “We’re on an antiracist journey” T-shirts. The shirts matched Zoom backgrounds with the same phrase that several attendees adopted.

“Dear School Board and Dr. Gregory Hutchings, Ed.D: I just watched some of the most recent School Board meeting and I could barely focus on its content because your ‘We’re on an antiracist journey’ t-shirts and Zoom backgrounds were so distracting,” responded ACPS mother Liz Fuller in an op-ed in the Alexandria Times. “I do not know if your intention is to be divisive, but I assure you, that is the result.”

Local mom Julie Gunlock called the matching T-shirts an “intimidation” tactic and cited a similar incident as “the final straw” that convinced her to withdraw her son from ACPS. “During the orientation three weeks before school started, we got online, it was a Zoom meeting, and the dean of the sixth-grade students, the backdrop was one of those ‘we believe’ yard signs,” she told The Federalist. “If that’s not ‘welcome to this school where we will indoctrinate your student with leftist thinking,’ I don’t know what is.”

“School boards are supposed to oversee the superintendent,” Gunlock added. “When they’re all wearing matchy-matchy T-shirts, they’re not overseeing a d-mn thing.”

4. Started Writing a Book

Hutchings, who has said he has “a goal of being the U.S. Secretary of Education,” took the time to pursue a book project this past year, despite assurances from a Washington Post puff piece that he was so busy trying to reopen Alexandria schools it was “like running a country.”

An action item from the school board’s meeting on Sept. 9, 2021 confirms that Hutchings is “co-authoring a book with Georgetown Professor, Dr. Douglas Reed, [sic] and planning to have the book published in 2022.”

When an Alexandria mom filed a Freedom of Information Act request for documents pertaining to Hutchings’s book, one of the emails obtained showed Hutchings brushing off the FOIA request, responding to another ACPS employee: “That’s nuts…LOL I can’t wait to write my autobiography.”

Gunlock lambasted “the idea of his distractions during the pandemic while parents were suffering, while children were suffering, while special ed kids needed special attention,” Gunlock said, also noting that Hutchings had complained he was getting too many emails from frustrated, concerned parents.

Reed, the Georgetown academic with whom Hutchings is reportedly writing his book, has been instrumental in another of the school district’s pet projects over the past year: renaming a high school in the pursuit of “antiracism.”

5. Renamed T. C. Williams High and Matthew Maury Elementary

In July 2020, just months after COVID-19 closures ejected students from schools and as students anxiously wondered what the upcoming school year would look like, ACPS launched “The Identity Project,” a plan to rename T. C. Williams High School of “Remember the Titans” fame, named for former superintendent Thomas Chambliss Williams; as well as Matthew Maury Elementary School, named for a groundbreaking oceanographer who served in the U.S. Navy and then the Confederate Navy.

Hutchings and ACPS launched a public opinion campaign to convince students and residents of the need to change both schools’ names, which included hosting three “read-ins” in which Reed talked about his book, Virginia’s role in school segregation, and the “context” of the “Remember the Titans” story.

The cost to rename the high school was estimated at more than $325,000, with an additional $5,000 to rename the elementary school. The school board voted to change the name of T. C. Williams in November 2020 and, in April 2021, renamed it Alexandria City High School and changed Matthew Maury Elementary School to Naomi L. Brooks Elementary School.

6. Extended Superintendent Hutchings’s Contract

While school board members are elected every three years, the superintendent is not chosen by voters. In December 2017, the school board appointed Hutchings superintendent and established his contract to run from July 2018 through June 2022.

The board that is elected this November, then, would have half a year after they are installed to appoint a new superintendent, if desired, before Hutchings’s contract expires. Hutchings’s original contract simply requires that “the Board shall endeavor to communicate … its intent with respect to renewal or extension” by December 31, 2021, not necessarily finalize the contract for such a renewal.

But in the school board meeting on June 17, 2021, the current school board renewed Hutchings’s contract to ensure he stays until June 2025 — not just past the expiration of current board members’ terms, but past the expiration of the term that school board members will be elected to this November.

“Our work to address racial inequities and advance the bold goals of the 2025 Equity for All Strategic Plan continues to be central to all we do,” Hutchings said in response, according to an announcement obtained from ACPS via an open records request. “There is still much work to do,” he added.

Alexandria resident Amy Hillis wrote to the Alexandria Times to express her frustration with the board’s prioritization of Hutchings’s contract and their move to deny the incoming board a chance to appoint a superintendent. “It was obviously done to solidify Hutchings’ position ahead of the November election, during which the thorny issues of ACPS’ COVID-19 mitigation, academic underperformance and school violence are on the ballot,” Hillis wrote. “Instead of concentrating on how to teach students in this complex environment, this board was preoccupied with job security for our superintendent.”

Neither Hutchings nor any member of the Alexandria City School Board returned The Federalist’s request for comment.

Elle Reynolds is an assistant editor at The Federalist, and received her B.A. in government from Patrick Henry College with a minor in journalism. You can follow her work on Twitter at @_etreynolds.

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