Why Is Anne Holton Claiming the Length of Virginia’s School Closures Didn’t Matter? (Part 1)

Anne Holton

by Vernon Taylor (a pseudonym)

The Virginia Board of Education meeting on December 12th, 2023 had a rare moment of must-see TV (22:50 – 29:27). In an attempt to gaslight parents, students and educators everywhere as she ignored the preponderance of data from COVID-era and post-pandemic studies, Board Member Anne Holton proposed an amendment striking the following words from the Board of Education’s 2023 annual report:

These [learning] losses were most severe among low-income and minority students and students whose schools were closed longest.

Board Member Holton reasoned (emphasis added):

The evidence for it is in my estimation inconclusive at best. The Virginia evidence is very sparse and it disappears if you control for poverty…. The international evidence, the PISA report, just came out saying the countries that opened sooner did not perform significantly better in the pandemic than those…who stayed closed longer.

Finally, and most importantly, our school board leaders and other local education leaders had very, very tough challenges in the pandemic. We were operating under so many unknowns. They were trying to manage so many priorities, keeping their staff safe and alive, keeping their students safe and alive and protecting against learning loss. They were all doing the best they could in my opinion under very difficult circumstances with so many things we just didn’t know at the time and to me these words are unnecessarily picking a fight with those who closed schools longer. Nobody in Virginia closed schools very long frankly, and most of them were open by March ‘21.

In this era where we need to get moving forward and pulling everybody together. How do we address learning loss? How do we get all entities, local, localities, state leadership folks across partisan divides, all working together? It’s just not necessary. The language adds nothing in there.

In response, Board Member Andrew Rotherham passionately stated (emphasis added):

I disagree on this one for a couple of reasons. First of all, I don’t think this is about blame. I don’t think this is about casting blame on decisions that were made. That’s in the past and I think we can all agree that the Spring of 2020 was a really, challenging difficult time. We can all remember we were, you know, washing our grocery bags and…leaving our mail untouched for several days. It was a different time.…

I don’t think we can say that most schools were open by March ’21. Because, first of all, that’s a year and even then they were not necessarily open for normal operations. If you were a special-ed parent, you were and are still trying to unwind what happened there and address that.

This was a substantial thing. It’s not about casting blame, but it is about saying “this is a major problem for the Commonwealth that as leaders we need to be absolutely focused on.

The PISA results didn’t say that there was no relationship, they just said it was a modest relationship and that other things mattered.

And I would just suggest that this whole conversation doesn’t make…a great deal of sense to me. If we don’t think having kids in school for orderly, live instruction matters, what are we doing here? Of course, this matters and, of course, the longer you’re out of school, the more impact you’re going to have. Otherwise, what is the point of any of this?

We have good educators around the state and, if they have the opportunity to teach kids, we’re going to see benefits. If they don’t, we’re not. And I don’t see this in any way as casting blame or picking a fight. I do see it as just leveling people about this enormous challenge that we face.

Board Member Dale Sturdifen seconded Rotherham’s points, also noting how chronic absenteeism leads to learning loss. Subsequently, Holton’s amendment was voted down 5-2.

Tomorrow on Bacon’s Rebellion: A look at the facts.