The Loudoun County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday directed the Joint Board of Supervisors and School Board Committee to study harm done to the Black community by previous boards dating back more than 80 years.
The actions follow last September’s joint apology by the Board of Supervisors and School Board for the role both entities played in “operating segregated schools, resisting integration and the persistent educational inequities that resulted from these actions” dating back to at least 1926.
Supervisor Juli E. Briskman (D-Algonkian) brought the proposal forward, supported by a 6-3 vote.
“I was proud to sign the joint letter of apology for the illegal operation of segregated schools, but I believe then and I believe now that we can go farther,” Briskman said.
“The efforts to undermine the education of students of color were intentional and deliberate,” she said. “Residual impact of racist policies like school segregation and massive resistance created deep and lasting disparities in the black community and potentially inhibited the ability of black Loudouners to achieve the same degree of academic, economic, and social success as their white counterparts.”
The matter will be sent to the joint committee, made up of members from the Board of Supervisors and School Board. The committee will then report back to the Board of Supervisors with recommendations for possible solutions, in partnership with Loudoun’s Black community.
Supervisors Caleb Kershner (R-Catoctin), Matt Letourneau (R-Dulles) and Tony Buffington (R-Blue Ridge) voted against the motion.
Kershner and Letourneau cited questions and concerns with Briskman’s motion, saying the initiative does not define any particular action.
“We don’t know all the details, perhaps, but we know there was a history of segregation, there was a history of all sorts of things that occurred in this county, but I would think the discussion we would want to have is about how do we move forward as a society, as a county, as a school system, all those things together [to] address them,” Letourneau said.
“My mind goes to places that are completely unrelated to the school system — economic development, business grants for the disadvantaged; all those sorts of things. But those aren’t topics for the Joint School Board,” he said, “And I’m not sure a public hearing, or a Truth and Reconciliation committee is going to get us there.”
As reported earlier, Briskman has said there is evidence that the Board of Supervisors and School Board prevented Black students from receiving the same level of education as white students.
The evidence, she said, includes the Board of Supervisors’ vote in favor of a proposed amendment to Virginia’s Constitution to allow the use of public funds for private schools in 1956. Briskman said the motive was to reduce the cost of private education for white families who were trying to avoid integrated public school systems.
Action was also taken to prevent funding and building improvements for Black schools, including Douglass Elementary and Douglass High.
Loudoun County Public Schools were segregated until the late 1960s, more than a decade after the Brown v. Board of Education U.S. Supreme Court ruling, which ordered schools desegregated nationwide.
Shortly after last year’s apology, community members, including those from the NAACP Loudoun Branch, supported making changes in the legislative processes for funding, increasing early awareness for access to preparatory classes and restitution for wrongdoings.
Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) approved an initiative similar to Briskman’s, known as Executive Order 32 that established the Commission to Examine Racial Inequity in Virginia Law. The commission’s mission is to “identify racially discriminatory laws and the inequitable economic policies that shadow them.”
Before voting, Kershner said he was concerned where Briskman’s proposal will lead.
“I think, ultimately, [the proposal stops], but it alludes to the fact that we’re looking at some level of reparations, and it’s kind of an open book of reparations,” he said.
Kershner also said Briskman’s proposal did not present any examples of systemic racism that exists presently.
“The real question I have is, is when do we put this behind us,” Kershner said.
“Obviously, our country has some deep-seated issues of race, and it has been 50 to 60 years since segregation was largely ended — and yes there’s been struggles over the years leading up to that — but I think Loudoun County in large part has overcome this,” he said.
Supervisor Sylvia Glass (D-Broad Run) said she doesn’t have to go far to find examples of racism. She said she’s heard stories from students in school, including her own sons that kept their stories from her out of fear of retaliation from their peers.
“This is something that does occur,” Glass said. “It is still occurring and so we just can’t say, ‘yeah, this was back in the 60s.”
Vice Chairman Koran Saines (D-Sterling) shared his own story before voicing his support. He said “there are still a lot of things going on.”
“It’s just probably not as prevalent, or in people’s faces, but it’s still happening under the surface,” he said.
Chairwoman Phyllis Randall (At-Large) said the conversations they were having are not to place blame, but there is a part of the population that have felt unheard, and Loudoun County has suffered from systematic racism. Housing, education, employment, banking and the justice system are some areas she cited.
“What [systematic racism] means to me is simply that we recognize it, we know it, and we work on it, that’s all that it means to me,” Randall said.
“It doesn’t mean that has to be guilt attached or attacks attached or ‘you did this’ or ‘you did that,’” she said. “It simply means we cannot fix what we do not acknowledge.”
The board also directed the joint committee — a motion made by Randall — to revisit the sale of The Douglass School property by the County-Wide League for $4,000, which was then conveyed to Loudoun County for $1.
The Loudoun County Joint Committee — including members of the Board of Supervisors and School Board — will discuss the item on Nov. 1 at 5 p.m., at the Loudoun County Public Schools administration building. The committee is expected to return to a future board meeting with recommendations.
The motion received unanimous support.