The Office of the Virginia Attorney General’s Division of Human Rights has determined that Loudoun County Public Schools had a discriminatory impact on Black/African American and Latinx/Hispanic students that applied to the Academies of Loudoun in 2018.
The school system is being requested to engage in a post-determination conciliation process to resolve the matter, according to a 61-page determination signed on Nov. 18 by Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring (D).
The division of human rights opened the investigation into LCPS in October 2019 amid allegations of discriminatory practices relating to the admission to the Academies of Loudoun, in violation of the Virginia Human Rights Act and the U.S. Constitution.
“Having found a reasonable cause to believe that policies and practices resulted in discriminatory impact on Black/African-American and Latinx/Hispanic students, the division of human rights requests that the charging party and the respondent engage in a post-determination conciliation process in an effort to resolve this matter,” Herring said in a letter to both parties. “The final determination includes reforms and commitments that the division believes are necessary to address the discriminatory disparate impact identified and help ensure equal opportunity for each student, as well as terms requested by the charging party in order to resolve this matter.”
The 61-page determination includes documents and experiences of students, families, faculty and staff members, the NAACP Loudoun Branch’s responses to the allegations and a quantitative analysis of disparate admission rates.
Additionally, the determination outlines the NAACP’s conciliation request asking 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.
The NAACP branch is also requesting the school division 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 school system is expected to be under new leadership as the conciliation process begins. Eric Williams, who has been the district superintendent since July 2014, was recently named finalist for a superintendent position in Houston, Texas.
Michelle Thomas, president of the NAACP Loudoun Branch, said Williams was just the head of division and that the focus should be on the system of administrators and staff.
“This is an entire system that needs to be overhauled, and the removal of Eric Williams does not make me any more hopeful that things will change,” Thomas said. “What will make me hopeful that things would change is going to be the oversight that is brought to this system because the attorney general’s office will be watching, and the attorney general’s office will be monitoring the plans and actions forward to dismantle systemic racism. That’s what’s going to change the system.”
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.
Thomas said the recent determination could lead to a lawsuit, which the NAACP branch is exploring.
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.
An LCPS spokesperson said the staff is reviewing the 61-page document to fully understand the asserted reasoning, conclusions and recommendations it contains.
“Every individual is valued in Loudoun County Public Schools, and LCPS remains committed to creating a safe, empathetic, respectful and supportive learning environment in order to empower every student to make meaningful contributions to the world,” Wayde Byard, spokesman for LCPS, said in a prepared statement. “While further evaluation of the DHR report is required, LCPS will continue its ongoing engagement with stakeholders, including the NAACP Loudoun Branch, in an effort to address concerns and resolve differences.”
“LCPS also will continue to implement its Action Plan to Combat Racism and other affirmative initiatives already underway across the division,” Byard added.
What has the school system done so far
Loudoun County Public Schools stated last November it “is committed to providing a safe, inclusive, equitable, respectful and supportive learning environment for every student.”
Months afterward, 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 school system also published an apology letter to the Black community in Loudoun and a 14-minute video that included a history of education in Loudoun County and focused on race.
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.
The division said in its determination that it recognizes the school division’s efforts to promote equal opportunities for Black/African American students, Latinx/Hispanic students and Muslim students that have experienced a pattern and practice of discriminatory treatment at LCPS.
“While the division finds that LCPS is endeavoring to establish systems that eliminate the patterns and practices that lead to the division’s inquiry, and to prevent such acts from happening in the future, it remains to be seen how these plans are admitted in practice, how progress is measured, and whether these efforts will be effective and sufficient,” the determination stated.
The school system is expected to provide written notice to students about the assurance of compliance, and agree and acknowledge the obligations, terms and conditions.
Within 60 days, LCPS will organize with stakeholders in underrepresented populations to develop policies and procedures to increase diversity of the applicant pool and the population of admitted students in gifted and talented education programs.
Updated policies and practices on a number of subjects must be sent to the division of human rights for review within the 60 days including on student discipline, hiring practices, governing discrimination and harassment.
LCPS will also cover expenses for an approved third-party consultant to assist LCPS in monitoring, assessing and making recommendations relating to the obligations for two years. LCPS will undergo periodic review of records, including logs of discrimination complaints and EEO training, and analyses of discipline and Academies of Loudoun student data.
The NAACP Loudoun Branch is expected to hold a press conference Friday at 2 p.m. at the Loudoun County Public Schools Administration Building, 21000 Education Court in Ashburn.
Times-Mirror reporter John Battiston contributed to this report.