Author Archives: sherlockj

Black Students Disappearing from Classrooms Disproportionately in Ten of our Largest School Divisions

by James C. Sherlock

For those who support local control of schools no matter what, I will offer you a “what” to consider.

For those who are nervous about even discussing why some jurisdictions in Virginia have failed to ensure “an educational program of high quality is established and continually maintained” for Black children, that works for Black children no matter their circumstances, you are reading the wrong article.

Twenty percent of Virginians are Black, as were 22% of our public school students in 2022.

Virginia lost 4% of its Black public school student registrations in the last three years, compared to 2.6% of all students including Black students. Black chronic absenteeism statewide jumped from 13.1% to over 25%. All student chronic absenteeism including Black students was 20%.

Ten jurisdictions with at least 2,000 Black students at the start of that period lost higher percentages of their Black students than the state average. Some much higher.

Those ten lost 8,668 Black student registrations. The entire state lost 10,674. Chronic absenteeism of black students in those jurisdictions increased in line with statewide increases.

Without even bringing up school quality, this is unacceptable if we care about the futures of Black kids.

We have to get them in school. I say “we” because it will be a long-term disaster for both these children and Virginia if we don’t.

Lots of different things have to be done to get them there, which is where school quality comes in. But I will share some of the raw numbers. Continue reading

Dems Block Bill to Maintain Safe and Effective Classrooms

by James C. Sherlock

I have written earlier about a Democratic bill in this recent General Assembly with broad Democratic support that did not pass.

Let’s look at another bill that did not pass, this one from a Republican, and with broad Republican support.

Article VIII. Section 1 of the Virginia Constitution requires the General Assembly to “seek to ensure that an educational program of high quality is established and continually maintained.”

This bill, HB 1461, was an attempt to carry out that responsibility.

It required the Department of Education to establish, within its regulations governing student conduct, a uniform system of discipline for disruptive behavior and the removal of a student from a class. The bill included criteria for teachers to remove disruptive students from their classes:

  • It instituted a requirement for a teacher to remove a disruptive student from a class if the disruptive behavior is violent; or
  • If the student persisted in disrupting the class after two warnings.

It added a prohibition against holding a teacher liable for taking reasonable actions or utilizing reasonable methods to control a physically disruptive or violently disruptive student.  Every school board would be required to adhere to these provisions.

That was it.

The “ensuring an educational program of high quality” thing.

Every Democrat in both bodies voted against it. Continue reading

Virginia Democrats Want to Deal With Criminals 18-20 in the Juvenile Justice System

by James C. Sherlock

I received an update yesterday from the NAACP on legislation that caught their interest in the 2023 General Assembly.

One bill that did not pass, but got party line Democratic support in the Senate Judiciary Committee, in turn caught my eye.

It was SB 1080 Juvenile and domestic relations district courts; adjudication of delinquency. Patrons were Senators Edwards, Boysko and Surovell. It was not some fringe bill. This is a mainstream Democratic goal.

The NAACP wanted me to know they wanted it reintroduced next year.

Delinquency is currently defined as criminal complaints for felonies or misdemeanors filed against a juvenile age 17 and under.

Democrats, unanimous in the Senate Judiciary Committee, voted to create a newly-defined class of “underage persons,” 18-20, and handle them in the juvenile justice system as well.

Seriously. Twenty-year-old felons in juvenile detention facilities.

They voted for that. Continue reading

Virginia, School Choice and Charter Schools – The National Map

by James C. Sherlock

One of the most curious aspects of discussions about Virginia, school choice, and charter schools is that Virginia progressives attack both as a conservative plot.

And mostly get away with it.

The claim is demonstrably preposterous, but effective so far because Republicans don’t offer an organized response.

I offer a map of the United States annotated with the percentage of public school kids attending public charter schools in 2019.

If Virginia progressives can discern some pattern of red states vs. blue states, they should speak up.

State laws vary, but each of the states with significant numbers of charters has a state-appointed charter authority that is not dependent upon approval by local school boards.

“Conservative” Washington, D.C., had 43% of its public school kids in charters.

Far from being totalitarianism, as goes the progressive line in Virginia, this is the result of popular constitutional amendments in virtually every state shown above in green.

Seems voters in those states wanted parents with kids in their worst schools to have options.

So will the voters of Virginia. Just show them the map during the campaign. Continue reading

Virginia Republicans, in Need of a Public Education Strategy for the Fall Elections, Should look to Florida

by James C. Sherlock

Virginia still supports in law the pillars of the progressive takeover of public K-12 and higher education.

Our elected Democrats, having made those laws even crazier in 2020 and 2021, resist any efforts to change them even at the margins.

Mystifyingly, Virginia Republicans seem not to have a public education strategy for the fall elections.

They need to look south.

The Washington Post reports that the legislature of the state of Florida, having already proscribed in law some of the more radical progressive educational dogma, is now taking down the pillars of that control in both K-12 and higher education.

It will consider various bills:

  • requiring teachers to use pronouns matching children’s sex as opposed to a gender construct;
  • changing the current Florida law that offers school choice funding subject to income limitations to make it a universally available program;
  • eliminating college majors in gender studies;
  • banning spending on DEI administrative positions and programs not required by federal law;
  • requiring post-tenure reviews at prescribed intervals to evaluate an individual’s continuing contributions to scholarship;
  • strengthening parents’ ability to veto K-12 class materials;
  • extending a ban on teaching about gender and sexuality — from third grade up to eighth grade.

I would have to see the final language of any of the bills to determine my personal support, and am unlikely to back all of them either personally or for Virginia.

But the strategy is right.

They attack the foundations of the progressive strangleholds on public K-12 and higher education. Continue reading

Feeding Petersburg

Garrison Coward oversees Gov. Youngkin’s Partnership for Petersburg initiative – photo contributed to the Progress-Index

by James C. Sherlock

I have written in this space many times about the struggles of Petersburg.

Petersburg is blessed in one way.

The Progress-Index’s Bill Atkinson and Joyce Chu may be the best pair of local news reporters working in Virginia.

Mr. Atkinson, in a series of reports, has detailed the continuing struggles of that city to get a grocery store downtown.

The big grocers surround the center of the city in more prosperous, safer areas but have not entered there.

Food Markets in Petersburg courtesy of Bing Maps

It is no secret why. Poverty and crime do not attract retailers vulnerable to shoplifting and worse. And Petersburg is among the poorest and most crime-ridden in Virginia.

A recent Petersburg solicitation for interest in building a grocery store downtown drew no bidders.

The Governor has a broad Partnership for Petersburg initiative to help Petersburg help itself  It is run by Garrison Coward, an external-affairs senior advisor to Gov. Youngkin.

He reports that the Governor is “hell-bent” on seeing a grocery store built there.

I will offer an idea. Continue reading

New Yorkers, Virginians Will See Your Political Campaign Contributions and Raise You Dick Saslaw

Sen. Dick Saslaw Official Photo

by James C. Sherlock

The New York Post was scandalized.

In a stunning display of how New York politics work, two of the state Legislature’s most outspoken opponents of charter schools are also among the biggest recipients of campaign cash from New York’s teachers’ union and its political action committee.

State Sen. John Liu (D-Queens), chairman of the New York City Education Committee, has raked in $33,300 since his first Senate race in 2018, putting him in the No. 3 spot behind Sen. John Mannion (D-Syracuse), who got $35,100 during the same period.

The money for the anti-charter pols came from both the New York State United Teachers — parent of the city’s powerful United Federation of Teachers — and its Voice of Teachers for Education PAC, state Board of Elections records show.

“Stunning,” they wrote.

Pikers.

Now I happen to agree with the Post’s position supporting charter schools. But the writers of the article are spoiled by New York’s campaign finance laws.

They need to come to Virginia to see what real financial influence in politics looks like. Continue reading

Virginia Emergency Management During COVID – A Well-Documented Scandal

By James C. Sherlock

The National Incident Management System Preparedness Cycle

We could see it wasn’t right as it unfolded.

Virginia’s flawed response to COVID was slow for all Virginians.

Fatal for some.

But the public just saw the broad stroke external effects.

  • We saw executive orders that seemed sudden, sweeping, and disconnected from the information we had. It turns out that often the governor himself was operating in an information vacuum.
  • In the pandemic’s early phases, the Commonwealth finished last or next to last among states in crucial responses like testing and vaccination program rollouts.  Everything seemed to be invented ad hoc rather than from a plan.  It turns out that was true.
  • There was a prescient and well-drawn pandemic operations plan that had been produced by a contractor, but virtually no one in the administration knew what it required, and certainly had never practiced it in any meaningful way or fine-tuned it based on realistic exercises.  When BR found and reported on that plan in 2020, it was pulled from public view.

It is important to make sure that doesn’t happen again, whether in another pandemic or in a cyber attack, hurricane, flood, mass shooting, kinetic terrorist attack, nuclear plant emergency, or something else.

In response to my request, a very cooperative Virginia Department of Emergency Management (VDEM) FOIA official has provided a remarkable and profoundly disturbing two-volume series detailing a running history and operations analysis of what happened inside the government.

It is titled “COVID-19 Pandemic History and After Action ReportVol. 1 (covers 2020) and Vol. 2. (covers 2021) hereafter referred to as the HAAR.

It was compiled and written under contract by CNA, a highly regarded federal contractor, who had people on site in Richmond during the COVID response.

The HAAR describes and assesses a series of widespread and seemingly endless internal and external government breakdowns that compromised the health and lives of Virginia’s citizens.

Management turmoil in the state government during COVID was so extensive as to be almost indescribable by any group with less talent than the CNA team.

The HAAR documents that Virginia’s COVID response was hamstrung by a lack of operations management experience in the leadership.

I understand that with authority comes responsibility.

But the governor, his Secretary of Health and Human Resources, and his Health Commissioner were effectively the chain of decision makers during COVID.  All three were physicians.

But that is one reason we have a civil service.

Virginia’s civil service failed to prepare for its roles in emergency response long before Ralph Northam was governor.  HAAR documents the complete inability of the bureaucracy to plan, organize and equip, train for, exercise and execute emergency plans.

It is clear to me that without capable civil service support, no administration would have fared well.  I hope, by exposing this deadly failure, to prevent the same thing from happening again tomorrow.

I will make strategic recommendations here in this first part of what will be a series on this issue.

Continue reading

What Do We Owe To and Expect from a Special Ed Teacher?

Abigail Zwerner
Courtesy AP

by James C. Sherlock

On February 16, USA Today published a story by Jeanine Santucci. That is the latest in an excellent series of reports on the shooting of Newport News first grade teacher Abigail Zwerner.

Her article, “Virginia 6-year-old who shot his teacher exposes flaws in how schools treat students with disabilities.” raises questions that Virginians need to answer.

  • What, exactly, do we expect of special education teachers and what do we owe them?
  • What training and resources must we provide?
  • How do we keep them safe?
  • How do we get enough people to accept the challenges and risks?

Any school official or teacher will tell you:

  • That the best-organized parents in K-12 education are special-ed parents;
  • That federal law is very prescriptive and provides little room for error on the part of the schools;
  • That schools’ (meaning taxpayers’) liability for error is open-ended; and
  • That special-ed continues to get more challenging, especially after COVID accelerated the number of emotionally disturbed children and adolescents.

Few school divisions will claim to have any of that under control.

 JLARC in 2020 concurred with that assessment in Virginia.

Longstanding shortage of special education teachers persists, and many school divisions rely on under-prepared teachers to fill gaps.

IEPs are not consistently designed effectively.

School divisions are not consistently preparing students with disabilities for life after high school.

Continue reading

Virginia Law Enables School Violence – School Board Policies Can Correct It

Courtesy NBC 6                                                             6’7” 270 pound student assaults teaching aide

by James C. Sherlock

In 2019, the National Education Association (NEA) published Threatened and Attacked By Students: When Work Hurts, urging lawmakers to address the crisis of unsafe behaviors in schools.

Read about Chesterfield schools in that article.

Unfazed, progressives in 2020 in full control of the General Assembly, led by now-Congresswoman-elect Jennifer McClellan, looked to break what they considered a “school-to-prison pipeline.”

They changed Virginia law to eliminate the requirement for principals to report misdemeanor assault and battery in Virginia schools, on school buses or at school-sponsored events to law enforcement.

Even battery on school staff.

It would seem to me, if I worked in a school, useful to require such violence to be reported to law enforcement.

But maybe that’s just me. Continue reading

Unconstitutional Viewpoint Discrimination in Virginia K-12 Teacher Evaluation Standards

Daniel Gecker Esq., President of the Virginia Board of Education. Appointed to the Board of Education by Governor Terry McAuliffe and reappointed to a four year term by Governor Ralph Northam. Date of expiration of appointment – June 30, 2023

by James C. Sherlock

Progressives, in the fullness of their dogma, oppose the entire Bill of Rights.

The Bill of Rights is specifically structured to limit the powers of government, which progressives find not only unsuitable, but unimaginable.

In the Golden Age of Progressivism in Virginia, 2020 and 2021, they controlled the governor’s mansion, the General Assembly, the Attorney General’s Office and all of the state agencies.

With total control, they took flight.

They have always known what seldom occurs to conservatives not prone to offend the Bill of Rights.

With total control of state government, progressives can enact and have enacted laws, regulations and policies that violate both the federal and state constitutions.

They know it will take a decade or more for courts to push back. Meanwhile they can call opponents “haters.”

After which the worst that can happen is that nobody is held accountable. Except the taxpayers.

I just exposed unconstitutional viewpoint discrimination in the University of Virginia’s hiring process. that was implemented starting in 2020.

The same fertile progressive imagination is also present in the Board of Education’s new (in 2021) Standard 6. “Culturally Responsive Teaching and Equitable Practices performance indicators” (starting on page xv) in “Guidelines for Uniform Performance Standards and Evaluation Criteria for Teachers(Guidelines). Continue reading

Viewpoint Discrimination in Hiring at UVa – “Presumptively Unconstitutional”

University of Virginia Counsel James Iler

by James C. Sherlock

The University of Virginia engages today in in-your-face viewpoint discrimination in hiring.

The counterfactually named University of Virginia Office for Equal Opportunity and Civil Rights (EOCR) declares itself responsible for:

Recruitment and Hiring: facilitating and monitoring faculty and staff recruitment and hiring and training faculty and staff regarding applicable laws and best practices for search and hiring processes.

Indeed.

EOCR has turned viewpoint discrimination into a science by considering contributions to inclusive excellence” in hiring. Do yourself a favor. Open that page and click to open each section.

EOCR helpfully offers hiring officials and search committees phrases as “examples of what could be added” to job applications at UVa.

[Faculty] Candidates should also describe how their courses, research, and/or service have helped, or will help, students to develop intercultural competencies or otherwise advance excellence through diversity, equity, and inclusion within the institution.

Those requirements are not viewpoint-neutral because diversity, equity and inclusion as practiced at the University of Virginia are not viewpoint-neutral. The  UVa DEI bureaucracy, including EOCR,  is authoritarian, and proud of it.

EOCR actively tries to screen out applicants who may disagree with the University’s thought police approach to DEI. In that pursuit, they don’t just require commitment to DEI going forward.

The applicant must demonstrate previous activity.

That makes UVa a government DEI spoils/patronage system, defined as a practice to reward active supporters by appointment to government posts.

If only the University had a legal department. Continue reading

The Washington Post Reviews Progressive In-Fighting at the New York Times – A Cultural Cliff?

Eric Wemple Washington Post

by James C. Sherlock

Eric Wemple, the media critic of Northern Virginia’s morning newspaper, The Washington Post, has just published an article “The New York Times newsroom is splintering over a trans coverage debate.”

I subscribe to both papers.

The review is unintentionally hilarious. The comments more so.

It provides context from the left for our debates here on hormone and surgery treatments of minors.

The New York Times is racked with internal dissent over internal dissent — a development stemming from multiple open letters sent last week to newspaper management taking issue with the paper’s recent coverage of transgender youth.

Seems there is a war among the woke over who is the most woke, and who is insufficiently so. Continue reading

Virginia Rail Safety Inspections

Courtesy Norfolk Southern

by James C. Sherlock

After the Ohio disaster, it is timely to review rail safety in Virginia.

The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) of the U.S. Department of Transportation is the federal rail safety regulator in cooperation with state authorities.

FRA’s Office of Railroad Safety employs 400 railway inspectors. Federal safety management teams are organized by railroad or type of railroad.

The FRA summary of State rail safety participation states:

state programs emphasize planned, routine compliance inspections; however, States may undertake additional investigative and surveillance activities consistent with overall program needs and individual State capabilities.

FRA both conducts and pays for training of state inspectors.

Code of Federal Regulations 49 CFR Part 212 provides state rail safety participation regulations.

Railroad Regulation represents one of the original areas of responsibility assigned to the State Corporation Commission (SCC) when it was created by the Virginia Constitution of 1902.

Virginia statutory authority is found in Code of Virginia Title 56 Chapter 13.

Virginia today has two Class I (major) railroads (Norfolk Southern and CSXT), nine Class II (short line) railroads, and more than 6,700 miles of track. Continue reading

For Your Consideration: An Intellectual Freedom Protection Act

by James C. Sherlock

I offer for your consideration the text of a draft Intellectual Freedom Protection Act proposed this morning by the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE).

FIRE is the leading American voice supporting academic freedom, free speech and due process. In doing so they defend democracy itself.

They are what the ACLU was before that organization abandoned the field as an impartial supporter of civil liberties to pick a side.

FIRE defends left and right equally.

I have below eliminated the preamble of the draft law for brevity. Lawyers can find the legal precedents referenced in the preamble here. Continue reading