By Zach Armstrong
PRINCE GEORGE, Va -- The Prince George School Board voted unanimously to oppose the teaching of what is known as ‘Critical Race Theory’ at its regular meeting July 14 after several parents expressed their opposition to the curriculum during public comment.
“My heart is heavy because our children are going to be exposed to things they shouldn’t be exposed to,” said one parent during public comment. “This year, my daughter wanted to write about pro-life, she was told by a teacher it was too sensitive but then suggested to write about the murder of George Floyd, to me that’s not right,”
“When were talking about Critical Race Theory or transgender matters, why are you not consulting the professionals you hired that are in the classroom?” said a former teacher during public comment. “There’s discrimination on both sides, so it would be helpful if you spoke with some of us teachers, trust professionals who know what we’re doing … make us part of the decision-making again,”
Following the public comment period, the school board went into a brief closed session to discuss student safety among other matters. Once the board members returned, they voted to add an agenda item to the meeting on Critical Race Theory.
School board member Chris Jounson announced he was making a move that Prince George County not implement Critical Race Theory to which those in attendance reacted with applause. The motion passed unanimously.
“There are things within legislation that have been passed that require teachers to be trained, it requires SOLs which would require teaching,” said Johnson. “I would ask that we ask Dr. Pennycuff and her team to come back to our next meeting with all the options for us to oppose those other, hate to say hidden, but legislation currently there that we’re not in favor of,”
“I’m definitely opposed to the teaching of Critical Race Theory, I think all of us are equal and we should be using our god-given talents to achieve as much as we can,” said school board member Sherry Taylor. “It doesn’t matter the color of your skin,”
Critical Race Theory is a framework for legal analysis created in the late 1970s and early 1980s by legal scholars. While not all Critical Race Theorists agree on everything, the basic tenets of CRT are how racism and racial outcomes are the result of how white supremacy has shaped institutions and U.S. law.
CRT scholars will also often consider both race and white supremacy as social constructs serving the interests of white peopleagainst marginalized communities.
Some parents who spoke during public comment brought up the issue of how the school division would handle the issue of gender identity.
Following legislation approved by the General Assembly last year, public schools in the commonwealth are set to create a more inclusive environment for transgender and non-binary students.
Revised policies include schools allowing students to use a name and gender pronouns that reflect their gender identity without any substantiating evidence and access to facilities (restrooms, locker rooms) that correspond to a student’s gender identity be available to all students.
The school board also held a public hearing on the American Rescue Plan Act Elementary and Secondary Schools Emergency Relief funds which are meant to help reopen schools and address the impact the pandemic had on academic learning.
Prince George School District is set to receive funds of over $4 million from the act. The funds must be used for addressing learning loss, facility repairs to reduce COVID spread, inspection and testing, improve coordinated responses, resources for school leaders, address needs for specific students (low-income, disabilities, minorities), training staff on sanitation, education technology, mental health services and planning for long-term closures.
One local resident spoke during the hearing reminding board members to make sure bills attached to the ARPA don’t include provisions they don’t approve of.
The school board gave special recognitions to new employees, transitioning employees and retirees. New employees were Principal at Prince George Education Center Buke George, Principal at Prince George High School Abbie Martin, Principal at L.L. Beazley Elementary Elizabeth Pell and Assistant Principal at JEJ Moore Stephanie Thompson. Mattie Thweatt will become Associate Director of School Administration. Retirees honored were Karen Belcher – Office Associate III at South, Vickie Elliott – Guidance Counselor at North, Willie Elliott – Director of Gifted and Title 1, Bonnie Pendergrass – Office Associate III at JEJ Moore, Lori Poythress - ITRT at JEJ Moore and George Tucker – Head Custodian at JEJ Moore.