LCSB meeting - 9/8/20

From left, Ian Serotkin (Blue Ridge District), Jeff Morse (Dulles District), Chairwoman Brenda Sheridan (Sterling District), Beth Barts (Leesburg District) and John Beatty (Catoctin District) participate in-person at the Sept. 8 Loudoun County School Board meeting. The remaining four board members and certain LCPS staffers participated virtually, as projected on the rear screen.

Instead of Columbus Day, Loudoun County Public Schools will now celebrate the second Monday of October as Indigenous Peoples’ Day, per a Loudoun County School Board vote Tuesday evening.

During its first meeting of the new academic year, the board also unanimously approved the LCPS Comprehensive Equity Plan, which board documents describe as a “multi-year big picture plan regarding deliberate intentionality toward eradicating inequities across the division.”

In the written proclamation of Indigenous Peoples’ Day, the board acknowledges Columbus’s historic voyage to the Americas as having “opened the door to the destruction of the Indigenous Peoples’ communities,” further stating its intent to honor the influence and contributions of Native Americans within society and culture.

Board member Harris Mahedavi (Ashburn District) made the initial motion to change the holiday’s name, quickly followed by a substitute motion from John Beatty (Catoctin District) in which he sought to replace some of the proclamation’s harsher language evoking violent historic episodes.

“I think I agree in spirit with this proclamation, but I have problems with a lot of the criticalness of it,” Beatty said. “In the attempt to bring up the indigenous peoples of the Americas, it denigrates other people, and I think that’s not really inclusive.”

Jeff Morse (Dulles District) concurred with Beatty, opining the original language might “further drive the wedge between different members of our community.”

“I think it’s clear that we have a very European-centric view of Columbus Day, and I think that our schools are doing a very good job of clarifying that and defining the issues that came with Columbus — the disease, the attack on the indigenous people,” he added.

Conversely, several board members found it important the proclamation acknowledge Columbus’ contribution to the roots of racism in the United States, having predated the Atlantic slave trade.

“This is not about one people versus another people,” Mahedavi said. “However, we as a School Board, we as an institution … need to set proper examples of what history was.”

“[Columbus’ voyage] did open the door to the destruction of the communities of people who were already here,” Beth Barts (Leesburg District) added. “That’s history, and that’s not something we can avoid talking about.”

Beatty’s substitute motion failed 2-7, with only himself and Morse voting in favor.

A subsequent substitute motion from Ian Serotkin (Blue Ridge District) that would have added further critical language to the document — namely, specifying Columbus’s responsibility for the extinction of the Taíno people in the Caribbean — also failed 3-5-1, with Barts, Beatty, Denise Corbo (At-Large), Morse and Chairwoman Brenda Sheridan (Sterling District) opposed and Vice Chairwoman Atoosa Reaser (Algonkian District) abstaining.

“There’s a lot of information that goes into the history of Christopher Columbus, and it’s not pretty, but I don’t think the proclamation is the place that we’re supposed to be telling that message,” Morse said during deliberation of the second substitute motion.

Mahedavi’s base motion finally passed 8-1, with Beatty the only dissenter.

Comprehensive Equity Plan

LCPS Chief of Staff Nyah Hamlett introduced the Comprehensive Equity Plan later in the evening as an action item.

School system staff developed the plan following a Systemic Equity Assessment which Superintendent Eric Williams commissioned last spring, using the results of that assessment as well as recommendations by the School Board’s Equity Committee to formulate a list of emergent themes, recommended actions and desired outcomes.

Per board documents, the plan aims to result in school policy with “built-in accountability for addressing racially motivated acts” and use of racial slurs, including across-the-board prohibition of use of the N-word by any student or staffer.

The plan further recommends LCPS educators be afforded additional opportunities “to engage in professional learning about color consciousness and implicit bias,” and that the school system establish action plans to address a lack of diversity, equity and inclusion when hiring staff.

Board documents also provide a detailed, bulleted timeline of planned action steps from 2020 to 2023 based on three strategic goals: “develop knowledgeable, critical thinkers, communicators, collaborators, creators, and contributors;” “recruitment and retention of a high performing, diverse workforce;” and “deliver effective and efficient support for student success.”

A couple of the evening’s public speakers commented on the Comprehensive Equity Plan, including Scott Mineo, who decried the plan as a “ridiculous agenda” that would oppress Caucasian students.

“Do you all think that all Black people are the same as the [Black Lives Matter] people, the violent ones, the destructive ones in the street? I don’t. You probably don’t either, so don’t make the same assumption about your white students,” he said. “It’s racist, it’s unfair, and you’re targeting a group of kids wrongly.”

Sheridan made the motion to approve the plan, thanking staff for taking the time to develop such a detailed, long-term plan and for their commitment to making LCPS “a culturally sensitive school system.”

“This is another step in that direction, and I am truly grateful for all the work that has gone into it thus far, also knowing that we have a lot more work to do,” she continued.

A brief debate occurred after Serotkin asked Sheridan, who chairs the Equity Committee, whether the committee had the opportunity to submit a final vote to send the plan to the board as an action item.

Sheridan said no formal vote occurred, leading Serotkin to move to refer the item back to the Equity Committee for a final vote of approval.

“I think it would be unfortunate if it didn’t have as much buy-in from the Equity Committee as it possibly could, by them endorsing it as a formal vote,” he said.

Per Sheridan, the committee spent two meetings in the spring going over the plan and providing feedback, followed by a summer meeting in which that feedback was finalized.

“My feeling was the committee was finished talking about the equity plan at this time, with the understanding that the equity plan is an evolving document, it can always be … revised, and that the committee at that time had provided the feedback that it had intended to after, I believe, two-and-a-half meetings,” she said.

Sheridan further added the plan is not set-in-stone, and the Equity Committee can modify it in the future.

Serotkin’s motion failed 3-6, with Barts, Leslee King (Broad Run District), Mahedavi, Reaser, Morse and Sheridan opposed.

The Comprehensive Equity Plan ultimately passed unanimously with no modifications by the board.

Tuesday’s Loudoun County School Board meeting is available to view in full at vimeo.com/455894651.

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