The Loudoun County School Board on Tuesday narrowly approved changes to the Academies of Loudoun admissions process at the recommendation of Loudoun County Public Schools senior staff.
The action, which the board previously discussed as a potential method to combat systemic racism within the division as well as a means to “promote geographic and socioeconomic diversity,” comes following years of concern regarding the underrepresentation of certain racial and economic groups at the Academies.
As an example, district officials said Black students only represent 2 percent of students admitted to the Academies in 2020, despite constituting 9 percent of the AOL Academy of Science applicant pool and 7 percent of LCPS enrollment overall.
Hispanic students similarly make up 18 percent of LCPS enrollment and 12 percent of applicants to AOL’s Academy of Engineering and Technology, yet only 3 percent of the Academies’ admitted students this year were Hispanic.
Further, last year the Virginia attorney general office’s Human Rights Division at the behest of the Loudoun County NAACP launched an investigation of LCPS for human rights violations involving discrimination.
“There’s merit to that case against us, the accusations against us,” board member Beth Barts (Leesburg District) remarked later in the meeting. “We can talk about it ‘til the cows come home, but there’s data, it’s real … We can no longer afford to ignore what’s right in front of us.”
LCPS Superintendent Eric Williams and Assistant Superintendent for Instruction Ashley Ellis also detailed geographic and socioeconomic underrepresentation within the AET and AOS admissions pools this year.
They took particular note of the fact that applicants from economically disadvantaged families constituted 12 percent of AET applications and 14 percent of AOS applications, yet only 2 percent of those ultimately admitted to each.
Williams and Ellis presented a detailed plan for altering the admissions process, which would include adjusted prerequisites, implementation of a racially and ethnically diverse review panel, and other changes.
Proposed adjustments included changing the minimum math requirement for applying to AET from Geometry to Algebra I, which would make it match the math prerequisite for AOS.
LCPS would also reduce the number of applicant assessments for the AOS and AET admissions process from four to two, maintaining use of a STEM Thinking Skills Assessment and a Writing Task, as well as reducing the number of testing days from two to one.
Per Jeff Morse’s (Dulles District) estimation, between 60 and 70 people who offered public comment earlier in the meeting expressed their disapproval of the potential changes, with many opining they would lower the high bar AOL sets and undermine the efforts of the division’s most hardworking students.
“Mr. Williams, the changes you have proposed so far are not evidence-based, but a shortsighted, knee-jerk reaction that will forever tarnish the legacy of [the Academies],” LCPS parent Kareena Nair said. “I ask all board members to stand firm against these draconian changes and not impede the progress of kids pursuing STEM.”
“It is disappointing to have our own School Board not giving us a fair opportunity to be selected based on academic merits,” said Abhi Badia, a rising eighth-grader at Farmwell Station Middle School. “Would you select a kid with little or no experience into a football or basketball team when the team is going to nationals?”
Following Williams’ and Ellis’ words, Ian Serotkin (Blue Ridge District) moved that the board form an ad hoc committee for AOL admissions, expressing discomfort with the current lack of data regarding the expected effects of staff’s recommended adjustments.
“Increasing the diversity of students at AOS and AET is a laudable goal,” he said. “However, I am deeply concerned that we are rushing these proposed changes without having sufficient data about the impact and consequences, either intended or unintended.”
Morse seconded Serotkin’s motion, voicing his consternation at the rapidity with which the “complete and utter rewrite” of Academies admissions standards was proposed.
“To my recollection, there was not one [public commenter] in favor of the proposed resolution,” he added.
However, student School Board representative Savannah Strope of Park View High School countered by noting none of the evening’s commenters were parents or students at LCPS middle schools underrepresented within AOL, several of which are in the Sterling District, which houses PVHS.
Chairwoman Brenda Sheridan (Sterling District) added no public commenters represented her and Strope’s home district as a whole, and that she was “woefully offended” by comments she believed insinuated qualifying students from underrepresented schools “would lower the quality” of AOL.
“I was sitting here, calling off names, trying to not sound angry because I was trying to be professional,” Sheridan said. “We can’t just send this back to a committee to discuss for a couple more years … It is time to recognize that the students who attend Park View are absolutely as capable.”
Initially, Serotkin’s motion to form an ad hoc committee passed 5-4 with Sheridan, Barts, Vice Chairwoman Atoosa Reaser (Algonkian District) and Leslee King (Broad Run District) opposed.
However, after a short break, Denise Corbo (At-Large) successfully moved to reconsider Serotkin’s motion. The board voted once more on his motion, which this time failed 4-5 after Corbo changed her vote to a no.
After a subsequent motion from Sheridan, the board finally voted 5-2-2 in favor of staff’s proposed changes, with Morse and John Beatty (Catoctin District) opposed. Serotkin and Harris Mahedavi (Ashburn District) abstained.
Serotkin then moved that LCPS create an ad hoc committee to oversee the implementation of the newly-approved changes, of which the board voted in favor.
Tuesday’s Loudoun County School Board meeting is available to view in full at vimeo.com/446846141.