The NAACP Loudoun Branch is pressing for a resolution from the Virginia Office of the Attorney General in its racial discrimination investigation into Loudoun County Public Schools.
The Division of Human Rights of the attorney general's office opened the investigation into LCPS nearly one year ago.
NAACP Loudoun Branch President Michelle Thomas said her organization has asked Attorney General Mark Herring's office to determine whether there is any evidence of racism.
Thomas believes she already knows the answer.
“Racism occurs in LCPS on a daily basis,” she said. “We already know what the outcome is going to be, and the outcome is that they're going to find it, because over 200 students and parents have cited racist incidents. So, it's impossible for them to not find any ...”
The NAACP Loudoun Branch wants the school system to improve access for minority students to challenging curriculum, including the pipeline between elementary, middle and high school gifted and talented program opportunities, according to its list of terms of conciliation. Additionally, the branch wants to eliminate what it sees as unlawful discrimination and harassment in LCPS, policies and practices that have a disproportionately negative impact on Black and African American students and bias in the LCPS hiring process.
The branch also wants the school system "to foster meaningful racial consciousness and racial literacy throughout LCPS, and retain, in consultation with the Loudoun Branch NAACP, a third-party consultant at its own expense to annually monitor a number of recommendations."
As part of the investigation, the attorney general's Human Rights Division was seeking information from the elite Academies of Loudoun, including methods to recruit students, criteria to evaluate students and how it is established. The Division of Human Rights is also seeking information about planned or implemented responses to the findings listed in an independent equity assessment.
The attorney general's office did not wish to comment for this story.
The NAACP Loudoun Branch has collected testimony from parents and current and former students and teachers who say they were “denied access to a challenging curriculum” and “experienced discipline disparities … and unfair hiring and career advancements.”
The NAACP Loudoun Branch has called on the school system to investigate the admissions process for months. The group is concerned with the small number of Black students being accepted into the specialized schools housed within The Academies.
Additionally, NAACP officials were concerned about the school's application process that reviews previous grades, scores and requires further testing.
The school system was recently hit with a lawsuit by several parents opposed to the School Board’s decision to overhaul its application process for fall 2020 to The Academies.
LCPS staff said the middle school enrollment at the Academies had a disproportionate negative effect on Hispanic and African American/Black students. Parents said in their suit that the school system's action is a violation of state and federal constitutional rights.
The Academies opened in August 2018 and sits on 120 acres off Sycolin Road in Leesburg. The Academies houses Loudoun’s science, technology, engineering, and career and vocational tech programs, and it's made up of the Academy of Science, Academy of Engineering and Technology, and Monroe Advanced Technical Academy.
For the 2018 school year, 2,116 students applied for the Academy of Science and Academy of Engineering and Technology, including 65 Black students, according to a report from the schools. Only one Black student was accepted along with two American Indian and Pacific Islander students. Asian (353) and white (104) students made up the top two ethnicity groups accepted.
Loudoun County Public Schools stated last November it "is committed to providing a safe, inclusive, equitable, respectful and supportive learning environment for every student."
What has the school system done so far
Last September, the school system released a systemic equity assessment of racial equity from consulting firm The Equity Collaborative. The firm provided a 23-page report, which included recommendations for Loudoun County Public Schools following multiple interviews and focus groups with students, parents, community members, teachers and school leaders.
LCPS recently created a director of equity position to provide a system-wide focus on creating more equity across the system. LCPS implemented initiatives in hopes of addressing the NAACP's concerns with diverse hiring through a number of measures, including requiring all teachers to take equity and cultural competence training and expanding after-school STEM programs in the elementary schools to identify high-achieving, economically vulnerable students.
An ad hoc committee on equity was created by the School Board last year.
A school system spokesperson said those initiatives were in place prior to the inquiry by the attorney general's Division of Human Rights.
As part of its "Action Plan to Combat Systemic Racism," LCPS deliberated the removal of Loudoun County High School's longstanding "Raiders" mascot, which the School Board ultimately approved unanimously in June.
The school system has also partnered with Teaching Tolerance, a project by the Southern Poverty Law Center, to offer optional educational materials meant to "prevent the growth of hate" and "educate children and youth to be active participants in a diverse democracy," according to the program's website.
LCPS courted controversy shortly before the current academic year began when many Loudoun families received anonymous postcards decrying Teaching Tolerance as "an extremist organization" promoting Marxist views.
"LCPS is proud of its use of instructional resources that support achieving its commitment to providing a safe, empathetic, respectful and supportive learning environment," officials wrote in a Sept. 4 email to families.
The apology letter
NAACP Loudoun Branch officials said they believe one of the school system’s responses to the investigation came in Friday’s apology letter and video to the Black community in Loudoun.
The school system released a previously announced apology for operating segregated schools with a 14-minute video that included a history of education in Loudoun County and focused on race and interviews with current school system employees, education advocates and Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Phyllis Randall (D-At Large).
The letter apologized for “operating segregated schools, resisting integration and the persistent educational inequities that resulted from these actions." It was backed by the school administration, School Board and Board of Supervisors.
“They're in direct response to the charge of discrimination and the equity collaborative report,” said Robin Burke, chair of the NAACP Loudoun Branch Education Committee.
In August, Thomas was asked by a school system representative for her assistance in drafting the letter of apology. She objected.
She stated in her email response, “As victims of racism and discrimination, with its beginnings in segregated education, it is unconscionable for the abuser to ask the victim to provide assistance in writing an apology for the abuse.”
The NAACP Branch plans to hold a virtual community discussion on the apology made by LCPS Friday at 7 p.m. The conversation will be streamed on Facebook.
The branch is also accepting questions before 3 p.m. at email@example.com.