Coming: Public Schools as Family Services Agencies

by James C. Sherlock

I have just reviewed the Return to School Planning Equity Audit published by the VDOE – Office of Equity & Community Engagement #EdEquityVA .  

I confess amazement.  

I simply had no idea how far the missions and functions of Virginia public schools have been stretched.  The Equity Audit shows that public schools are suffering from very rapid and severe mission creep.  

The Virginia Department of Education is very quickly working to turn the public school system into an integrated family social services organization.  No word on the reaction of the nine state agencies already tasked with such services.

Yet I find no evidence that anyone has identified the authorization for such a transition, the cost of the new missions, the conflict with the missions of other state agencies or whether the resources are available to accomplish the directives. 

That would be a great task for the Virginia Inspector General. And we know that won’t happen. The Governor would consider such a review “political,” like the parole board investigation. The IG would be fired.

But the view from the corridors of the VDOE appears utterly unconstrained by anything, including clarity or objective measurements of the outcomes they demand. The goals are open ended, subjective, vague and daunting.

The School Planning Equity Audit checklist has the following major components. I will provide samples only of the checklist items with each:

  1. Plan Development
    • Did we conduct a needs assessment of our community to inform our planning? 
  1. Cultural Competence – Does our plan
    • Reflect that we value diversity? (think school culture) 
    • Ensure that curriculum and instruction (including remote delivery) is culturally affirming? 
    • Include a process to ensure that cultural competency principles are executed in the delivery of our recovery plan? 
  1. Meeting Student Needs – Does our plan
    • Include a process to assess each student and tier services to meet their needs? 
    • Assess the ways in which social determinants of health and health inequities affect our school(s) and communities? 
    • Evaluate our student code of conduct and student discipline referral process to ensure it includes safeguards that assess student trauma manifesting through behaviors (especially for students disproportionately impacted by exclusionary discipline policies and economic insecurity)? 
    • Include providing ongoing support for student social and emotional needs? 
  1. Student and Family Engagement – Does our plan
    • Allocate resources to engage families? 
    • Include an assessment of student and family needs?
    • Include built in processes for ongoing evaluation of family needs? 
    • Include targeted engagement strategies? (especially families marginalized by language, poverty, race, and ability) 
    • Establish protocols to ensure that family engagement strategies and initiatives are developed and implemented through an economic and cultural competency lens? 
    • Include resources to build the capacity of caregivers to support instruction? 
    • Include providing ongoing support for student social and emotional needs? 
  1. Communications and Community Engagement – Does our plan
    • Specify established channels of communication with community partners? 
    • Include an assessment of the resources available in the community? 
    • Include strategies to engage non-traditional education stakeholders (i.e., civil rights organizations, out of school providers, health agencies, etc.)? 
    • Include a process to ensure that engagement and communication strategies are inclusive of the language, dialects, and literacy needs of all families? 
  1. Instruction – Does our plan
    • Incorporate tiered and scaffolded supports for all learners? 
    • Structure instructional time to meet the needs of students with varying levels of access to the internet and technology? 
    • Include professional development and instructional resources for teachers to support student engagement and cultural relevance? 
    • Identify internal and external barriers to student learning and success by student group? 
    • Provide access to translated instructional materials or translation services for non-English speaking caregivers to support student learning? 
  1. Resource Allocation – Does our plan
    • Align budget allocations to the prioritization of marginalized and vulnerable students? 
    • Address teacher retention and recruitment and its impact on teacher assignment in high need schools specifically?
    • Allocate human and collateral resources to deploy new and targeted communication strategies? 
    • Allocate resources to improve communication with students and families (interpretations services, multilingual collateral)? 
    • Provide access to translated instructional materials or translation services for non- English speaking caregivers to support student learning? 

As an aside, I cannot but be amused that they ask the plan to address teacher retention. That is easily my personal favorite. 

But I present the partial list above not to critique the value of any of these objectives but question why the Virginia Department of Education feels it has the authority, or even that it is a good idea, to extend the expanded social services missions to the schools.  

No voter has ever been presented that proposition, much less been asked to vote on it. I am unable to find a single instance of a legislator or Governor who ran on such a platform.  

Rather, the Governor has appointed a Board of Education and a Superintendent of Public Instruction who have decided, apparently on their own, that the public school system should be something else. And they have decided it must be reinvented with 30,000 fewer white teachers, with no concept of whence might come the minority teachers to replace them. 

They define what the schools should be as it occurs to them. I guess the Governor and General Assembly’s jobs are is to watch VDOE do it.

Is it too much to ask for the citizens to be advised when they are done?