By Matt de Simone
Last Thursday night, the Botetourt County School Board addressed some of the recent mandates made by the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) regarding the SOL curriculum. The board also addressed orders made by the Virginia School Board Association (VSBA) on transgender students in public schools– both of which were not officially part of the June agenda.
The board addressed Critical Race Theory and “The 1619 Project.” Superintendent of Schools Dr. Jonathan Russ suggested for citizens to educate themselves better on the two issues. He admitted there is a lot of information he had to learn and more to learn.
“There are changes that were sent out by the Department of Education around January of 2020,” Dr. Russ explained. “Around October of 2020, the Board of Education approved a series of changes, or the correct term of technical edits, for the Commonwealth’s History & Social Science Standards of Learning (SOL) framework. This framework details essential knowledge and skills students must attain to meet the learning objectives in the SOLs.”
Russ further explained that the essential knowledge and skills are the specific items taught to students and are the standards in the test. He announced that BCPS would begin working on incorporating the new measures implemented by the VDOE.
He clarified that the board would not vote on whether or not to implement the new standards at the meeting last week. The upcoming SOL curriculum will be the same as the previous school year. However, with future upcoming edits from the VDOE, those changes will become the new standards taught in Botetourt County Public Schools (BCPS) moving forward.
“It’s not a matter of me recommending that to the board and the board voting on that,” Russ continued. “Those are the standards handed to us as a public education entity.”
Student assessment on these new standards takes place in 2023.
Blue Ridge representative Matthew East addressed recent Virginia School Board (VSB) updates regarding several issues related to solving bullying and harassment of transgender students. East feels that these new updates will cause more problems for these students.
“I truly pray that I am wrong,” East stated. “I am not here to pass judgment on what people do outside of a school day or in their personal life. In no way am I going to tell a parent how to raise their child. I completely understand that we have students who identify as the opposite gender that are currently in our schools now.
“However, the data shows that we’re not dealing in facts right now,” East continued. “We’re dealing in theories. This not a discrimination and a freedom issue as they want it to be. This isn’t about education or protecting students. This is a political agenda disguised as an educational concern. We, as a board and as a division, need to think long and hard about the choices that we face. Botetourt County – and I would imagine a majority of school divisions in the Commonwealth – are not ready for this. Other school divisions, I have heard, are opposing the model policies and replacing them with alternatives to meet requirements set forth by the General Assembly,” East said.
East made it clear that he wants the board to continue to educate their students and not let issues like the mistreatment of transgender students and other ideologies disrupt the education process.
“We’re in a hard spot,” Buchanan School Board representative Michelle Austin added. “The reality is: if you don’t implement the minimum mandates, you could potentially lose funding – which would be $26 million from the state.”
Other notes from the meeting: the board approved the 2021 Summer School pay scale for public school employees involved in summer learning.
Russ mentioned that a committee would discuss how to lower the cost of insurance premiums for BCPS employees in the future. The current price for the upcoming school year will not change. The board approved to go forward with a request for proposal for the Marsh McLennan Agency to continue their consulting work with the county.
Russ reported on bonuses for school division employees. He recommended that all full-time contracted employees receive a $2,000 bonus, and all part-time employees receive a $1,000 bonus. Austin mentioned that the board waited for the right time to award bonuses and thanked everyone for their patience.
The board approved that all non-resident student tuition fees will lower from over $2,000 to $1,000 per student for the upcoming school year. Dr. Russ mentioned that any parents of non-resident students who already made the payment would be reimbursed the difference due to the recent change in cost.
They agreed to change a Virginia School Boards Association (VSBA) policy where the BCPS policy manual now reads to reflect the adopted policy or school board regulations and no longer has a superintendent regulation. Russ thinks it is unnecessary to have two types of regulations.
Visit bcps.live and go to the archive tab to view last week’s meeting in full.