We Think: Back to School Under a Cloud?

We Think: Back to School Under a Cloud?

August 23, 2016.

Next week about 79,000 Loudoun public school students start a new term. By most measures, the Loudoun County Public School (LCPS) system has a lot to brag about. Setting aside the often controversial topic of budgeting, our public schools continue to be characterized by growth, improvement, innovation and achievement.

But recently we heard something that gave us pause. It deserves the prompt, thorough and public attention of Superintendent Eric Williams and the School Board.

In his capacity as president of the Loudoun branch of the NAACP, Phillip Thompson has alleged that LCPS is failing to effectively recruit, hire and promote a diverse teacher workforce.  Mr. Thompson is also seeking an explanation for what he characterizes as the disproportionate disciplining of students.  As an example, he alleges that black students make up seven percent of enrollment but nearly a quarter of suspensions.  He further argues that there is an achievement gap that is neither closing nor being effectively addressed.

We have read the NAACP’s allegations, its FOIA requests and the LCPS’s replies, and we are left wanting to know more.  A spokesman for the LCPS acknowledged that teacher diversity is an ongoing challenge, but asserted that achievement gaps are relatively small.  It was also pointed out that of 16 new principals this fall, four are African-American.

Little has happened since Mr. Thompson made his initial statements on July 22, and the NAACP is already contemplating legal action. That’s not good for Loudoun County.

LCPS reports that 48 percent of county students are non-white, a percentage that is growing. The challenges of serving this diverse population require proactive leadership that includes parents, teachers, school administrators, elected officials and others.  The administration of public policy, whether by schools, local government or the criminal justice system, must be perceived as transparent, even-handed and self-critical to inspire the public’s trust.  Complaints and concerns ought to be addressed quickly and comprehensively, and not as a growl that will subside over time.

This is the time to upgrade the dialogue with representatives of all minority communities regarding the LCPS’s approach to diversity, academics, teachers, discipline and more. We urge Dr. Williams to release all relevant documents related to the NACCP’s request, and for LCPS and the School Board to convene a series of public meetings with all interested parties to address these matters.

Remove the cloud.