Virginia Board of Education postpones review of history and social science standards

The decision comes after critics questioned some of the apparent omissions and context with the proposed standards.

RICHMOND, Va. — The Virginia Board of Education sat through hours of public comments, regarding disagreements and concerns about the future of schooling Thursday.

Last week, the administration of Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin unveiled the proposed changes to the state’s Standards of Learning (SOL) for history and social studies, a process which is revamped every seven years. The SOLs offer a framework for how educators should teach certain topics.

The hourlong comments from teachers, parents, historians and community stakeholders came ahead of a first review by the board and Virginia Superintendent of Public Instruction Jillian Balow.

Critics have already questioned some of the apparent omissions and context with this set of standards. The document was largely met with public outcry over what some describe as “whitewashing” and the erasure of marginalized people.

RELATED: Youngkin proposes new history standards, critics say it is politically motivated

“The draft history standards released on Friday show the worst kind of politically motivated meddling, with academic instructions. Full of overt political bias, outdated language to describe enslaved people and American Indians. Highly subjective framing of American moralism and conservative ideas. There are racist, coded overtures throughout,” Virginia Education Association Vice President Carol Bauer said.

One example pointed to multiple times throughout the meeting by speakers was the reference to indigenous and Native people as “first immigrants.”

“Now I’m an immigrant in my own land? Not yet, I’m still here,” said one member of the Pamunkey Indian Tribe.

“Native Americans are referred to as first immigrants with the underlying implication we weren’t here for 10,000 years, and our land was up for grabs,” said another speaker.

Moreover, Board of Education member Anne Holton, who was appointed by previous Democratic administrations, voiced concerns.

“I’ve told people who thought, ‘Oh, this is an attempt to whitewash;’ No, no, no calm down. We’re really just trying to get it right. I no longer have that confidence. I can no longer can say that,” said Holton.

Holton, for instance, mentioned that Juneteenth was previously left out of a list of holidays in the document.

Balow later addressed the aforementioned wordings and omissions, apologizing for and characterizing them as inadvertent.

“The nature of the accidents in the early grades, and as I say that’s been my focus, are extreme,” Holton argued.

RELATED: Gov. Youngkin doubles downs on transgender student policies in Virginia despite additional 30-day delay

Many speakers also pointed out a preference for adopting the already completed and drafted SOLs, citing the 400-page document that was the product of years of research and community input.

The creation of those standards was started in 2021 under the administration of then-Gov. Ralph Northam.

Balow would go on to acknowledge the newly proposed SOLs are more of a framework than the previous proposals, allowing for more information to be added to and changed based on a “curriculum framework.”

At the end of the discussion, the board voted in favor of creating standards that factor in the previous and current proposals, as well as the public comment on them. 

Moving forward, Balow is tasked with making adjustments accordingly. She and board members are now expected to hold the first review of the proposal in January. 

Youngkin’s spokeswoman Macaulay Porter shared a statement outlining the issues the administration had with the first proposed standards.

The August 2022 draft policies developed under the previous Administration had significant errors in their standards, including omitting key historical references to hate groups like the Ku Klux Klan, and Sen. Hiram Revels of Mississippi, the first African American to serve in Congress, and more, which have now been incorporated into the new draft,” Porter wrote.

She added that the standards were molded “through public comment, review, and input from Virginians, state and national historians, and various community organizations since January 2021.” 

“The draft history standards are in the initial stages of the State Board of Education’s review process and will continue to undergo revisions informed by public engagement sessions and Board hearings,” Porter wrote. “This process is focused on ensuring Virginia has the best history standards and curriculum for our students.”