Department of Education apologizes, corrects Virginia’s proposed history education changes amid backlash

Superintendent of Public Instruction Jillian Balow apologized Thursday that the new draft social studies standards referred to the ancestors of Virginia’s indigenous communities as “immigrants,” and the state Board of Education voted unanimously to delay its first review of the standards.

Speaking about the term “immigrants,” Balow said it was an error that should have been caught and promised to correct it.

The Department of Education also re-inserted Martin Luther King Jr. Day and Juneteenth into the new draft of the elementary social studies standards. A department spokesman said Thursday morning that the holidays were left out inadvertently in the version of the document posted last week. A corrected version is now posted on the department’s website.

The omission of the holidays and the reference to indigenous peoples as “immigrants” were points of contention with many individuals and groups critical of the new draft, including the NAACP.

In a statement Thursday morning, the NAACP said: “It is outrageous that the draft proposal has erased Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. from the K-5 standard. The treatment of Reconstruction has an inadequate representation of Black Americans; there is no mention of Juneteenth and the discussion of the ancient empire of Mali, which illustrates that the history of African-descended Virginians began before the Atlantic slave trade, is removed from the third-grade standard.”

During Thursday’s meeting, several people spoke about the new draft, including members of the indigenous community who were angry that their communities were referred to as “immigrants” in the standards.

The corrected document led to some confusion, as a statement from the education advocacy group Fight For Schools called those reporting the omission of Martin Luther King, Jr. “gaslighters.”

The vote to delay the review of the standards came after several hours of conversation centered around the changes that were made and feedback the board received. The board asked that the new draft presented in January would take into account the previous draft and public input and correct any errors and omissions.

Before the vote, board member Andy Rotherham said, “The spirit of my motion is that we continue to move forward, but we don’t go out to the public yet.”

Board president Daniel Gecker added he did not way to schedule the special meeting until a new draft is completed.

Nour Habib, nour.habib@virginiamedia.com

Kelsey Kendall, kelsey.kendall@virginiamedia.com