Why Do We Have Public Schools in Virginia? For the Children or for the Adults?

by James C. Sherlock

The title of this piece is meant as a serious question, and not one to be answered lightly.

The Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) would dismiss the question by calling both the children and the adults “stakeholders.” Besides, Secretary of Education Qarni and the state Superintendent of Instruction have been very busy with two consuming issues:

  • inventing and slaying structural racism; and
  • what Qarni considers too many Asians in Governors schools.

They clearly have been too stressed holding those two utterly conflicting ideas simultaneously to be able to worry about whether kids get educated. That is one of the many reasons why we would be better off without a state department of education.

So, time is up. Why do we maintain schools? Virtually all of you answered “for the children.” So let’s see how that is working out for them.

The Adults

News update: Fairfax County Schools announced October 5 that “by the end of October, we plan to be offering in-person instruction to approximately 3.5 percent of FCPS students. .… Today we can be proud that our school system is moving toward a return to in-person instruction.” You read that right — 3.5% in class by the end of the second month of school.

And they are proud of it.

The fact is that some districts in Virginia have demonstrated that the schools are run for the teachers. The kids are barely an afterthought.

Fairfax County teachers unions threatened an illegal strike if their members had to return to the classroom. Virginia law demands they be fired for that offense. They still have their jobs and are working from home. Nobody has much asked if the kids are learning from home. Especially the youngest and poorest of the students.

Apparently nobody has asked why the teachers who voted to support a strike still have their jobs, either. The Fairfax County Superintendent, Secretary Qarni, the Virginia Inspector General and the Attorney General can consider the question posed. I don’t expect an answer.

Fairfax Schools Superintendent Brand has 19 highly paid district officials in his office. Some would suggest that is not enough to get the schools open. I would suggest it is about ten too many.

We have questions for Fairfax County Schools, its teachers unions and the teachers voting to stay home. Do you have a moral obligation to teach the children? The spirit to pull together for the good of the kids?

Instead, we get policies that will ensure that many children will never recover academically.

Then we have Albemarle County. It offers limited in-person instruction only to early level English learners and students with special needs who cannot access their programs virtually and determined by their IEPs. The next stage, should they reach, it is not much better.

But if the kids ever get there they have a new ‘anti-racist” policy, not simply an equity policy. And the teachers will need to learn that grading was part of the structural racism that has existed until this year.  It has been banished in favor of culturally responsive grading and anonymous reporting of teacher micro aggressions.

The majority of Virginia public school teachers believe the school boards are elected to decide when it is safe enough to go back to the classrooms and will be there to teach the children when they return.

The teachers that do not agree — I’m talking to you Fairfax County — to do so should be given the option to resign or be fired.

It goes back to the title question. Are the schools there for the kids or for the adults?

Just when you thought the adults had caused the children enough trouble, the school systems apparently will have an opportunity to develop policies on student, teacher and staff COVID vaccinations this school year. Which brings us to the press.

The Press

If you read the newspapers, especially many of the editorials or editorials posing as news reports, you would think that the children are there to serve the needs of the adults who are paid to teach them. And that most teachers are not pleased to return to the classroom. Or that the children will get sick and die. Or the teachers will. Or the teachers’ elderly parents will. Or something.

So what about the parents? You would also think from the press that many of parents only want their children back in school for their own convenience.
No one will ever convince me that any parent does not want his or her children to learn.

The news articles that insinuate selfishness on the part of the parents must have been written by people that are childless. Or they are written by people who support the teachers unions that protest loudly and incessantly that “their” teachers do not want to be in the classroom. Or both.

Both of those story lines — unprincipled teachers and self-interested parents — libel the vast majority of Virginia’s teachers and parents.

There is, for the naysayers, the inconvenient example of the Catholic schools.
Virginia’s Catholic schools have succeeded where some public school districts have declined to try. Catholic schools in Virginia opened full time in August and have successfully maintained safety protocols while teaching their children five days a week in person.

I must have missed the Washington Post editorial that praised them for their success.

The press will get a chance to make more trouble when it gets to editorializing about school requirements for the COVID vaccines which they currently have demonized for political reasons.

The Unions

The teachers unions consider it a power and a dues issue. They want to demonstrate control in advance of next spring’s local option contract negotiations with local governments, or at least for any city or county brain dead enough to allow it.

The Children

Then you will notice that absolutely no study suggests that remote learning will teach children, especially elementary school children, as well as in-person training. It is not a close call.

You will also find that every assessment suggests that the lack of in-person training disproportionally disadvantages poor children.

I must have missed the signs and marches of rage by BLM and their white allies in front of Fairfax School system headquarters demanding the kids return to school. Must have been on the same day as the Washington Post editorial praising the Catholic schools.

Finally, where are the plans to repeat grades for large numbers of children, especially elementary and middle school children, who simply did not learn what they needed to know to proceed ahead? SOL testing is scheduled to occur but dates are subject to change due to the pandemic. We could probably get Las Vegas odds on the probability of SOLs being cancelled.

Certainly if SOLs are administered to children who haven’t been in the classroom since March we would expect much poorer scores, perhaps catastrophically so among some of the poorer children.

The children have not proven very effective “stakeholders.” But then, they’re only children.