Friday marks the last day of classes for public schools across Hampton Roads and this academic year ends as it began: with teachers and school officials enduring attacks on their professional competency and dedication to the students they serve.
Is it any wonder that educators are leaving the profession in droves, or that the commonwealth already has more than a thousand teaching vacancies? A pay bump included in the state budget agreement may help, but Virginia is likely to struggle to keep talented people in the classroom unless it better supports their work.
Three Virginia Beach principals on Monday asked that city’s school board to change how it handles public comments following a parent’s complaint in April about her child’s treatment on a school bus.
According to Pilot reporting, the parent “alleged the school’s principal and an assistant principal had acted improperly after learning of the allegation” and named them in the comments. Board member Beverly Anderson said the claims were unfounded.
“We must be able to do our jobs without fear of being subjected to unvetted accusations in a public forum,” Paige Scherr, a principal at Virginia Beach Middle School, said at the meeting. She serves as president of the Virginia Beach Association of Secondary School Principals which cosigned a letter with the city’s Association of Elementary School Principals to request the policy change.
“In order to attract and retain, we must ensure our employees are treated with respect and have the necessary support from the board,” Arrowhead Elementary School Principal Kimani Vaughan told the board.
As it is in every other workplace, so it is in schools. Employees — teachers, administrators, staff — all want to be treated with respect by district leaders and the communities they serve. But that respect has been in short supply during a very difficult school year.
Recall that last summer, before classes began, school board meetings became battlegrounds over mask policies, course curricula, equity policies and even what books are available in school libraries. There was shouting, there was vulgarity and there were threats.
Those arguments played out in communities across the nation and even prompted a statement in October by the U.S. Department of Justice. Attorney General Merrick Garland reminded the nation that, “Those who dedicate their time and energy to ensuring that our children receive a proper education in a safe environment deserve to be able to do their work without fear for their safety.”
The controversies over public schools earned a prominent spot in the gubernatorial campaign as well, as Republican Glenn Youngkin and Democrat Terry McAuliffe clashed over education policy and parental involvement in curricula choices.
Youngin, of course, won that race. And he wasted no time in issuing an executive order that took aim at teaching “inherently divisive concepts” — a nebulous term that could be used to disparage all types of instruction.
The governor created a tip line using a government email address to solicit citizen complaints about teachers and schools and has refused media requests for copies of those emails. The Pilot and Daily Press are among a group of Virginia media organizations that have sued for access to those records.
For their part, Hampton Roads teachers and administrators have remained focused on the kids. They returned to schools even when COVID-19 case numbers spiked. They enforced mask policies when required. They have heard the shouts of parents and endured the governor’s pressure.
And they have done it all with remarkable professionalism, knowing that their work to prepare students for promising futures is a noble and necessary calling.
So today, on the last day of school, our hats are off to them. May those who return in the fall be greeted with a more supportive and nurturing environment in which to do their important work.