Virginia Teacher Fired for Refusing to Wear Mask

The Chesterfield County School Board agreed to fire government and history teacher Stephen Roszell for insubordination after he declined to comply with a state-wide mask mandate for teachers. Roszell told The Virginia Star that he would have complied with a local mask mandate from his employer since Virginia is a right-to-work state. However, he sees Governor Ralph Northam’s public health order as an overreach of executive power. He’s also concerned about federal stimulus funds sent to school districts influencing their policy.

“I teach about federalism in history and government, and this is a direct payment essentially from the federal government through the Virginia Department of Education to [Local Education Agencies (LEA)],” Roszell said. “This money is coming directly from the federal government, and localities must follow all the CDC guidelines through 2023.”

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Youngkin Campaign Responds to McAuliffe’s Denial of CRT in Virginia Schools

Terry McAuliffe and Glenn Youngkin

The gubernatorial campaign for Republican Glenn Youngkin responded to former Gov. Terry McAuliffe, running for his second nonconsecutive term in that office, who once again denied that Critical Race Theory (CRT) is being taught in schools in Virginia. 

“Virginians know that Terry McAuliffe doesn’t have the best interests of parents and students in mind,” Youngkin spokesman Christian Martinez told The Virginia Star. “McAuliffe wants to keep parents out of the classroom so his special interest allies can force their radical political agenda into classrooms and tell children what to think instead of teaching them how to think. As governor, Glenn Youngkin will empower parents, ban critical race theory, restore excellence in our public schools, and raise teacher pay.”

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Virginia Schools Grapple with Bus Driver Shortage Exacerbated by the Pandemic

Chesterfield County Public Schools (CCPS) announced a starting pay increase from $17.21 to $20.21 per hour to attract bus drivers amid a national bus driver shortage. That combines with an already-in place $3,000 bonus, and was made possible by additional funding from Chesterfield County, the school and the county announced Monday.

“A national school bus driver shortage has led to transportation challenges at the start of the 2021-22 school year. Chesterfield school bus drivers are working long hours and driving multiple routes to get students to and from school, but dozens of school buses are sitting idle because of a lack of drivers,” a CCPS press release said.

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Virginia Schools 2020-2021 Standard of Learning Tests Results Unsurprisingly Low

Virginia’s 2020-2021 standards of learning (SOL) pass rates are low: 69.34 percent for reading, 54.18 percent for mathematics, and 59.45 percent for science, according to Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) data released Thursday. The VDOE emphasizes that those results are due to COVID-19 and related factors, and followed national trends.

“Pass rates reflect disruptions to instruction caused by the pandemic, decreased participation in state assessment programs, pandemic-related declines in enrollment, fewer retakes, and more flexible ‘opt-out’ provisions for parents concerned about community spread of COVID-19,” the VDOE said.

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Chesapeake School Board Chooses Not to Pass Transgender Policy

The Chesapeake Public Schools Board declined to even vote on passing a transgender policy in its Monday meeting. After hours of public comment advocating for and against both mask policy and the transgender policy, Member Patricia King’s motion to pass the policy died without being seconded by any other board member.

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Some Virginia Schools Temporarily Close or Go Virtual When Dealing with COVID-19 Cases

Virginia public schools are reopening under a new law, SB 1303, which requires all schools to make in-person instruction available for the minimum standard required instructional hours — virtual learning can be provided, but must be optional. However, that doesn’t mean that local districts can’t choose to go virtual-only for limited amounts of time, as Rappahanock County Public Schools is currently demonstrating. On Monday, the district announced that amid rising COVID-19 and flu cases, the school was moving to virtual-only until August 27 while the district implements new mitigation strategies.

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Court Dismisses Lawsuits over Virginia Department of Education’s Model Transgender Policies

Lynchburg Circuit Court Judge J. Frederick Watson dismissed lawsuits challenging the Virginia Department of Education’s (VDOE) model transgender policies. In the decision published Tuesday, Watson found that the plaintiffs the Christian Action Network (CAN) and the Founding Freedoms Law Center (FFLC) do not have standing. The plaintiffs had argued that the VDOE improperly responded to public comments.

“VDOE contends that the appellants are not aggrieved by the model policies, which are directed not at the appellants but at the local school boards, which have flexibility to fashion policies consistent with the model policies,” Watson’s decision states. “In these cases, the appellants do not have standing to challenge the model policies. Their dissatisfaction with VDOE’s response to their comments does not create an immediate, pecuniary, or substantial interest in this litigation, but only a remote or indirect interest.”

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Gov. Northam Proposes $250 Million ARPA Allocation to Fund HVAC Upgrades for Virginia Schools

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam

Governor Ralph Northam is proposing that Virginia legislators use $250 million of Virginia’s American Recovery Plan Act (ARPA) funds for HVAC upgrades in the Commonwealth’s schools. He announced the proposal on Monday, a week before the Virginia General Assembly is scheduled to meet to allocate the ARPA funds.

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Family Foundation Lawsuit over Virginia Transgender Policy Has Hearing for Injunction

Two organizations asked the Lynchburg Circuit Court to issue a preliminary injunction against the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) temporarily blocking implementation of legally-mandated transgender policies in school boards across Virginia. On Wednesday, they argued that while a lawsuit over the policy proceeds, school boards are implementing the policies which, they said, could be harmful to children.

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Virginia Department of Health Recommends Local School Districts Require Masks in Elementary Schools

New guidance from the Virginia Department of Health and the Virginia Department of Education asks local divisions to implement their own mask guidelines based on the local COVID-19 environment.

The guidance doesn’t include mandatory policies for the whole Commonwealth, but does recommend requiring masks for everyone in elementary schools regardless of vaccination status until vaccines are available for children under 12. They also recommend that middle- and high-school staff and students should wear masks if not vaccinated.

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Some School Boards Oppose Virginia Transgender Policy Mandate; Enforcement, Consequences Unclear

As culture war issues spread through public hearings at Virginia’s school board meetings, school boards are starting to oppose adopting new transgender policies mandated by state law. Amid complaints and demands from public speakers, the Pittsylvania County Schools (PCS) Board voted four to three on Tuesday to reject adopting the Virginia Department of Education’s (VDOE) Model Policies for the Treatment of Transgender Students in Virginia’s Public Schools.

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Botetourt School Board Disavows Critical Race Theory

The Botetourt County Public Schools (BCPS) Board disavowed Critical Race Theory (CRT) in its July 8 meeting, saying CRT was not being taught in the school. After public comment, Chair Anna Weddle read a statement supported by all five board members.

“[BCPS] has not and will not be teaching [CRT]. The term is not mentioned in standards, nor in curriculum. This includes the current standards and those standards that will be taught beginning in the 2022-2023 school year. Collectively, we do not support [CRT] in K-12 education in Botetourt County,” the statement said.

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Youngkin Nearly Tied with McAuliffe in New Poll; DPVA and RPV Attack Each Other’s Candidates

The Virginia gubernatorial race is neck-and-neck, according to a new poll. 46 percent of respondents support former Governor Terry McAuliffe and 42 percent support GOP nominee Glenn Youngkin, with a 4.2 percent margin of error. The phone poll of 550 likely voters was conducted by JMC Analytics from June 9-12, and was commissioned by CNalysis with funds from 141 donors.

House of Delegates races are even closer. The poll found that 44 percent would support a Democratic candidate for House and 43 percent would support a Republican candidate. Democrats have stronger leads in the Attorney General and Lieutenant Governor elections.

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Commentary: Virginia Can’t Seem to Make up Its Mind About Its New Math Curriculum

Classroom of students with teacher at blackboard

What the heck is going on with the Virginia Department of Education?

A little over a week ago reports surfaced that the state would be doing away with advanced math classes for all grades except 11 and 12.

But then reports came out noting the state’s education chief disputed those reports, saying “absolutely acceleration is not going away in mathematics courses.”

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Virginia Mathematics Pathways Initiative Draws Concern Over Lowering Academic Standards

A proposed Virginia Mathematics Pathways Initiative (VMPI) has Republicans concerned after Loudoun County School Board member Ian Serotkin warned about the plan on Facebook, first reported by Fox News. Serotkin wrote that there are some good things in the initiative, like enabling students to take calculus in high school. But Serotkin also warned that the VMPI would end math acceleration before 11th grade.

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Cox Calls for Small-Group and Individual Tutoring to Address Learning Loss

Gubernatorial candidate Delegate Kirk Cox (R-Colonial Heights) agrees that schools need to be reopened immediately. But he says that’s not enough — policymakers need to address learning losses. Districts like Fairfax County have reported spikes in failing grades. Parents and medical studies have expressed concern over the long-term harms caused by a year of virtual learning. Cox is calling for tutoring programs to help students recover academically, and he says he is willing to be one of those tutors.

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Virginia Department of Education Announces Guidelines for Reopening Schools

The Virginia Department of Education announced a new set of guidelines for school reopening, the result of a workgroup created in February. The guidelines include recommendations for remediating learning loss, note that virtual learning doesn’t work for every students, calls for special attention for vulnerable populations, and say that more staff may be needed to keep student-teacher ratios low.

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Virginia Family Foundation Sues over New Transgender Public School Guidelines

The Family Foundation is suing the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) over its Model Policies for the Treatment of Transgender Students in Virginia’s Public Schools. The model policies took effect March 6, 2021, and school boards must adopt policies consistent with the model by the beginning of the 2021-2022 school year. However, the Family Foundation says there are legal problems with the policies and that the VDOE did not properly address comments made during a legally required public comment phase.

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Legislation Requiring Virginia School Divisions to Offer In-Person Learning Option Advances in Senate

Legislation that would require local school divisions in Virginia to make in-person learning available to all students advanced out of the Senate Education and Health Committee on Thursday with some bipartisan support.

Senate Bill 1303, introduced by Sen. Siobhan Dunnavant (R-Henrico), just barely passed out of the committee by an 8-7 vote. All six Republicans voted in favor of the bill and two Democrats joined, while the rest of the committee members opposed.

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Virginia Teachers Union President Calls for All-Virtual Learning Until School Staff get Vaccinated

Virginia Education Association (VEA) president James Fedderman wants public schools in the Commonwealth to go to fully virtual learning until teachers and school staff receive vaccinations to stop the spread coronavirus in schools.

Fedderman asked the governor and school leaders around the state to facilitate the instructional switch in a video published to the VEA website on Friday.

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Virginia Teachers Union Calls for Statewide Virtual Instruction Until Mid-January

The Virginia Education Association (VEA) is calling for all public schools in the Commonwealth to switch to virtual instruction for the next month because of the recent rise in COVID-19 numbers throughout the state. 

VEA President Dr. James Fedderman issued the statement online Thursday. 

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83 Percent Increase in Middle and High School Students Earning ‘F’ Grades in at Least Two Classes in Fairfax

A Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) study found an 83 percent increase in middle and high school students earning ‘F’ grades in two or more classes. The study compared Quarter One 2020-2021 results to Quarter One 2019-2020, and coincided with COVID-19 virtual learning. Last school year, six percent of the students earned ‘F’ grades in two or more classes; that increased to 11 percent in the latest results.

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Virginia Department of Education Leader Accused of Appropriating Government Resources to Speak on Equity at Loudoun County Public Schools

Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) Director of Equity and Community Engagement Leah Dozier Walker will moderate a Loudoun County Public Schools (LCPS) event on equity. Walker also advocates other issues including Black Lives Matter, anti-racism, critical race theory, and social justice. 

Earlier this year, Virginia Inspector General Michael Westfall accused Walker of appropriating government resources to set up her private consulting business. Westfall noted in his report that Walker had accumulated nearly 100 hours of unexplained absences the previous year, as well as offered consulting services that were almost the same as her state duties.

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Virginia Department of Education Releases New ‘Equity Audit Tool’ as Most Schools Continue Distance Learning

The Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) released a new “equity audit tool” last week. The tool is part of VDOE’s “Navigating EdEquityVA,” which focuses on providing tools and resources to dismantle inequities in education.

Included within the checklist are evaluations of “anti-racism,” various biases such as gender and ethnic bias, support of racial justice groups like Black Lives Matter (BLM) and Black Power, proportional disciplinary action across races, and equal representation throughout groups and classes.

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