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After $9.5K FOIA bill, NAACP releases records on Virginia’s election integrity unit

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Virginia NAACP President Robert N. Barnette Jr. outside the civil-rights group’s office in Richmond. (Graham Moomaw/Virginia Mercury)

 

A message Virginia Attorney General Jason Miyares’ office sent out in late August in response to “election integrity” complaints included a clear statement that state attorneys had no evidence of widespread fraud in 2020 and, therefore, no reason to stop the legally mandated destruction of ballots two years after the election. The Aug. 24 email also included a line that struck at least one right-wing activist as big news.

“Attorney General Miyares has created an election integrity unit composed of attorneys and investigators that will work closely with law enforcement to ensure that future elections are conducted pursuant to law and at the highest level of integrity,” the email said.

On Aug. 30, a response came from Virginians for America First, a pro-Trump group founded by Republican congressional candidate Leon Benjamin, a Richmond-area pastor who invoked Satan and “spiritual war” as he spoke at a Stop the Steal rally outside the Virginia Department of Elections in November 2020.

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Bill Hawkins, the group’s state director, told the attorney general’s office that if it were true, a new unit had been created, he’d like to put out a press release to show election integrity activists “the AG’s office has heard us and has responded positively by creating such a unit.”

“If your office is planning on announcing this soon, we will hold off on our own press release,” Hawkins wrote.

As Miyares staffers discussed how to respond, Senior Assistant Attorney General Donald Ferguson asked: “BTW, do we have an election integrity unit? I don’t see it on the org chart.”

A little more than a week later, on Sept. 9, the election integrity unit was officially announced, drawing instant condemnation from Democrats, who called it a nod to conspiracy theorists who spread false election fraud claims that could lead to excessive scrutiny of minority voters. The attorney general’s office has adamantly denied that characterization, saying the 20-person unit is a more streamlined way of enforcing election laws and investigating all voting-related complaints, an activity the office was already empowered to handle.

The emails illuminating the runup to the announcement were released Tuesday by the Virginia NAACP, which paid a little more than $9,500 to get records it called disappointingly scant on information about the unit’s personnel, procedures, and purpose.

“This unit is plainly a paper tiger,” NAACP Virginia President Robert N. Barnette Jr. said at a press conference in Richmond Tuesday morning, “a public relations ploy to pander to election deniers and conspiracy theorists, who are the real force undermining public confidence in our elections.”

In a statement Tuesday afternoon, Miyares spokeswoman Victoria LaCivita suggested the NAACP was disappointed because it didn’t find proof to back up its allegations the unit is a “partisan masterminded witch hunt designed to prevent Virginians from exercising the very right the Attorney General’s family fled communism for.”

“As we said earlier this month, the Virginia NAACP is making groundless attacks that are offensive, ridiculous and without [a] single shred of proof,” LaCivita said. “Due to the NAACP’s inappropriate and baseless attack, we continue to expect an apology on behalf of the hundreds of men and women at the Office of the Attorney General who work every day protecting the rights and freedoms of all Virginians.”

The early activities of the election integrity unit have been unclear. The state is prosecuting a former top election official in Prince William County over misconduct allegations that could have resulted in the county reporting slightly incorrect vote counts for the 2020 election, but Miyares’ office has refused to reveal additional details about the case.

The NAACP was required to pay a roughly $20,000 deposit to have Miyares’ office act on its Freedom of Information Act request, even though the final bill came in at less than half that amount.

Barnette accused the office of using exorbitant fees to try to get the NAACP to back off its request, a common criticism from transparency advocates who say Virginia’s laws make it too costly and difficult to try to access government information.

Most of the records consist of internal emails, press clippings, and responses to public feedback about the election integrity announcement. Barnette said he saw nothing noteworthy in the material the NAACP received, which the attorney general’s office told the group required more than 200 hours of staff time to compile.

“This is a questionable amount of time and money given the complete lack of records regarding any actual staffing or operation of the unit,” Barnette said, adding that the NAACP is still challenging the $9,515.07 bill.

Miyares’ office said the fees aligned with state law allowing agencies to recoup the costs of expansive records requests, noting the NAACP had filed 17 requests seeking documents over a 15-year span. According to correspondence the NAACP released, the office withheld approximately 282 records, citing FOIA exemptions for working papers and correspondence, records covered by attorney-client privilege and documents related to criminal investigations.

Barnette, who reiterated his group’s call for Miyares to disband the election unit, said the NAACP had received no complaints of voter intimidation in the midterms earlier this month, the first election in which the unit was up and running.

Asked about the suggestion the NAACP owes the attorney general’s office an apology, Barnette said the group’s efforts had nothing to do with Miyares’ family background or his status as the state’s first Hispanic attorney general.

“We’re just calling out the issue that he established an election integrity unit that would have supposedly presented a barrier to African-Americans or people of color from voting,” Barnette said. “That’s our issue.”

Many of the documents the civil rights group turned up show seemingly routine sharing of internal talking points, press clippings and responses to public feedback. But some highlight the fine line Miyares and other Republican officeholders are trying to walk on election issues.

Shortly after the announcement of the unit’s formation, the attorney general’s office was invited to send a representative to an election integrity event in Loudoun County with conspiracy theorist Jovan Hutton Pulitzer, the author of a report on purported fraud in Arizona that an expert hired by the Arizona Senate dismissed as “utter rubbish.” LaCivita said no one from the office attended the event.

The talking points the attorney general’s office circulated in August were more unequivocal than some of its other public statements about the fact there is no proof of significant fraud in Virginia’s 2020 election.

“The attorney general’s office has reviewed the 2020 election results, along with hundreds of documents from concerned citizens and elected officials, and we have not seen any evidence of widespread fraud that would change the results of Virginia’s 2020 election,” the talking points said. “Therefore, we have no justification for suing to stop the discarding of ballots this year.”

The documents also show that former Virginia elections commissioner Chris Piper sparred with the attorney general’s office after Piper sought reassurances that the state’s top legal office would back the elections community against bogus fraud claims. The brief hiring of an election conspiracy theorist to oversee election issues in the attorney general’s office, as well as news that the office had taken a meeting with conspiracy-minded Sen. Amanda Chase, R-Chesterfield, Piper wrote, had raised “numerous concerns” for election officials.

“At this point, I believe it is incumbent upon [Attorney] General Miyares to make a public statement or, at the very least, provide a statement to my staff, the general registrars, and the Electoral Board members that he is behind us and committed to promoting the good work these dedicated public servants have done to administer safe and secure elections that the public can trust,” Piper wrote in the Feb. 24 email. “Anything less would legitimize concerns the Attorney General will not faithfully defend the good work of these dedicated public servants.”

In a reply a few hours later, Chief Deputy Attorney General Chuck Slemp called Piper’s message “disappointing” and “politically charged.”

“Let me be very clear: Our office is looking forward to working with the many public servants at the Virginia Department of Elections and local election officials and supporting them in their work to administer safe and secure elections,” Slemp wrote. “By doubting that, you are doubting the integrity of the Attorney General, and for that, you should be ashamed.”

In an internal memo announcing the unit, Slemp said Miyares’ background as the son of a Cuban immigrant who escaped an “oppressive regime” is part of what makes the attorney general believe “the right to vote is among the most sacred of American freedoms.”

“Accordingly, the attorney general wants every Virginian to have absolute confidence in our election system,” Slemp said.

Slemp called the initiative an efficiency-boosting “restructuring” of personnel already working on election matters and indicated it would not only be interested in anti-fraud investigations.

“The Unit will also work with civil rights attorneys to protect voting rights and crack down on voter intimidation,” Slemp said.

Slemp’s memo said the unit would be supervised by two senior officials in the Government Operations and Transactions Division, Section Chief Josh Lief and Deputy Attorney General Leslie Haley.

In several emails included in the documents, Lief explains to Virginians for Americans First, the Republican-aligned group focused largely on voter fraud, what the state’s election laws require.

On Sept. 13, Lief explained why there was no “statewide order to preserve ballots” as some GOP activists wanted. The next day, he explained that vote-counting machines are required under state law, meaning local electoral boards can’t stop using them in response to calls to hand-count all ballots.

A Sept. 15 email in the records shows Lief acknowledging that many election integrity activists don’t have a firm grasp of the state’s laws and procedures. As he and other officials addressed an inquiry about how the unit can initiate investigations, Lief described a “private election integrity community that does all this research, looks at other states’ laws, doesn’t understand so many things about VA voting systems, etc.”

“Being blunt but dealing with all this is really something,” Lief wrote to his colleagues.

 

by Graham Moomaw, Virginia Mercury


 

Virginia Mercury is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Virginia Mercury maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Sarah Vogelsong for questions: info@virginiamercury.com. Follow Virginia Mercury on Facebook and Twitter.

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Hampton Roads ships recovering spy balloon wreckage and more Va. headlines

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The State Capitol. (Ned Oliver/ Virginia Mercury)

 

• Ships based in Hampton Roads were recovering the wreckage of a suspected Chinese surveillance balloon after it was shot down off the South Carolina coast over the weekend.—Virginian-Pilot

• Newly released emails shed more light on prosecutors’ decision to drop a prostitution-related case against a Virginia Beach pastor.—WRIC

• A push to give Petersburg a chance at a casino development could be in jeopardy after the enabling legislation failed in the state Senate.—Richmond Times-Dispatch


• The Orange County Board of Supervisors pulled funding for a local arts center after backlash to a design class taught by a drag performer.—Culpeper Star-Exponent

• A bipartisan pair of lawmakers in the House of Delegates appear to be succeeding in ending the use of solitary confinement in Virginia prisons.—Washington Post

 

by Staff Report, Virginia Mercury


Virginia Mercury is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Virginia Mercury maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Sarah Vogelsong for questions: info@virginiamercury.com. Follow Virginia Mercury on Facebook and Twitter.

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Failed Bills: Eliminated divorce period, sexual harassment education, wrongful death and shorter absentee vote period

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Elected officials serving in the Virginia General Assembly have a short amount of time to potentially discuss thousands of proposed measures that are either defeated or signed into law.

Over 1,900 bills were introduced this session, in addition to joint resolutions and legislation carried over from last year. So far, over 100 bills have failed to advance in the House and over 300 in the Senate. Over 1,000 bills are pending in the House and over 500 in the Senate, with the session midpoint approaching.

Here are a few of the bills that failed to advance this session.

Senate Bill 1288: Petition for defendant to pay child support due to wrongful death of child’s guardian resulting from driving under the influence


The measure introduced by Sen. Bill DeSteph, R-Virginia Beach, would allow the court to consider child support payment in an instance of wrongful death of a child’s parent or legal guardian that was caused by driving under the influence. The legislation was passed indefinitely with a 14-0 vote in the Senate Judiciary Committee and is likely dead for the session. Committee members felt the bill did not add additional value to the current scenarios in wrongful death civil cases. Sen. Scott Surovell, D-Fairfax, questioned the legislation because it is not “a policy solution to a specific problem.” “It’s not clear to me why we would say ‘you pay child support if somebody dies by drunk driving instead of murder,’” Surovell said during the committee.

Senate Bill 880: In-person absentee voting period shortened to a week prior to any elections

The measure, introduced by Sen. Ryan McDougle, R-Hanover, would shorten the in-person absentee voting period to seven days prior to the election. Currently, absentee voting in person begins 45 days before the election. The bill would create a burden at high-volume localities, Sen. Adam Ebbin, D-Alexandria, said during the committee hearing. “They would need hundreds of people [staff] to get those people not having to wait for hours and hours in line,” Ebbin said. The legislation was passed by indefinitely with a 10-4 vote in the Senate Privileges and Elections committee.

House Bill 1720: Eliminates one-year divorce waiting period due to cruelty, bodily hurt

Del. Nadarius Clark, D-Portsmouth, introduced a measure to eliminate the one-year period spouses wait to be pronounced divorced and legally separated. A separation or divorce would be granted before the one-year period in cases of spousal abuse such as cruelty, reasonable apprehension of bodily harm, abandonment or desertion, and more by either party. The bill would have applied to divorce filings on or after July 1.

A divorce is currently permitted if the parties lived apart without interruption for one year, or entered into a separation agreement, had no minor-aged children born or adopted, and lived apart without interruption for six months.

An anti-human trafficking advocate and victim of spousal abuse offered testimony on behalf of the bill. “Right now, this does not solve the problem that Del. Clarke wants to solve,” said Richard Garriott, with the Virginia Family Law Coalition, in opposition to the bill. “We have a solution for that, called an emergency and permanent protective order.” The House of Delegates Courts of Justice subcommittee defeated the bill with a 5-3 vote.

House Bill 2003: Enforcement of sexual harassment and workplace discrimination training and education

Del. Paul Krizek, D-Fairfax, introduced a bill to require employers with 50 or more employees to provide annual interactive sexual harassment and workplace discrimination training and education. Employees in a supervisory role would be required to complete at least two hours of training. Other employees would be required to complete one hour.

A provision in the bill called for migrant and seasonal agricultural workers to have the one-hour training to start on Jan. 1, 2024. Employees would receive a certificate of completion. A House Commerce and Energy subcommittee recommended the bill not advance with a 5-3 vote.

Still to come

There will be plenty of other failed bills this session. In fact, gridlock is to be expected when “voters put one party in charge of one chamber and the other party in charge of the other,” according to Stephen Farnsworth, director of the University of Mary Washington Center for Leadership and Media Studies and a political science professor.
“From guns to abortion to taxes to schools, Republicans and Democrats in Richmond demonstrate over and over again that there is little interest in compromise in these polarized times,” Farnsworth stated in an email.

The session is approaching the midpoint with “crossover day” on Feb. 7, when a bill must have passed its respective chamber to advance, or it will be left behind.

By Anna Chen
Capital News Service


Capital News Service is a program of Virginia Commonwealth University’s Robertson School of Media and Culture. Students in the program provide state government coverage for a variety of media outlets in Virginia.

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First Lady Suzanne S. Youngkin names first Spirit of Virginia Award for 2023

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Governor Youngkin and First Lady Suzanne S. Youngkin presented a 2023 Spirit of Virginia Award to Southside Community Development and Housing Corporation, a metro area community development corporation focused on cultivating housing and financial self-sufficiency for primarily Black, Hispanic, and Latino and women-led households.

First Lady Suzanne S. Youngkin gives remarks. Photo by Shealah Craighead Photography.

“For more than 30 years, Southside Community Development and Housing Corporation have helped countless Richmonders prepare for and achieve home ownership. If ‘home is where the heart is,’ then Glenn and I laud the hearts that are forever changed by the good works of SCDHC,” said First Lady Suzanne S. Youngkin.

“SCDHC appreciates the honor of being a recipient of the Spirit of Virginia Award. We are elated that the arduous work we do to ensure the equity in housing for people of color is recognized by the First Lady of Virginia,” said Southside Community Development and Housing Corporation President & CEO Dianna Bowser.


Southside Community Development and Housing Corporation is Central Virginia’s oldest, historically Black-led community development corporation. Their mission is to build viable, thriving, sustainable communities through affordable housing and wrap-around support services.

Southside Community Development and Housing Corporation have built homes in over a dozen neighborhoods and developments throughout the Richmond area, totaling over 750 units of affordable housing, with 450 as single-family affordable homes. In 2022, the organization served nearly 800 clients through its housing counseling and educational services, including foreclosure prevention, rent relief, and workforce development tools.

The Spirit of Virginia Award recognizes unique qualities and standout achievements across the Commonwealth and salutes Virginians for their uncommon contributions to private industries, education, culture, the arts, and philanthropy.

Governor Youngkin and the First Lady will name five more Spirit of Virginia Award recipients in 2023. Learn more about the award here. To learn more about Southside Community Development and Housing Corporation, visit the organization’s website. All recipients of the Spirit of Virginia Award are recognized during a holiday reception at the end of the year at The Virginia Executive Mansion.

Follow the First Lady on Facebook and Instagram as she celebrates Virginians across the Commonwealth.f

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Three interesting bills of the week: implicit bias training, geriatric parole and furloughed feds

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The Virginia General Assembly convened for its 2023 session in Richmond on Jan. 11, 2023. (Sarah Vogelsong / Virginia Mercury)

 

Hundreds of bills are filed for General Assembly consideration each year. In this occasional series, the Mercury takes a look at a few of the proposals that might not otherwise make headlines during the whirlwind legislative session. 

House Bill 1734 – Implicit bias training for practitioners working with pregnant persons

This legislation from Del. Chris Head, R-Roanoke, is part of a bipartisan effort that would require practitioners who have direct contact with persons who are or may become pregnant to complete two hours of continuing education related to implicit bias and cultural competency in health care.


The Virginia Board of Medicine would adopt and implement the policies and require that the education be completed at least once every other license renewal cycle, which is every two years. The bill defines implicit bias as “a bias or prejudice that is present but not consciously held or recognized.”

An identical version of the bill introduced this year by Sen. Mamie Locke, D-Hampton, was struck in committee Thursday, with the panel agreeing to send a letter to the Task Force on Maternal Health Data and Quality Measures asking for a study.

Advocates have been calling for solutions to narrow the gap in racial disparities in maternal mortality for years. Multiple studies have confirmed that many medical professionals hold implicit biases that affect the quality of care.

Black women in Virginia are more than twice as likely to die in childbirth than white women, according to a 2017 Virginia Department of Health report. In 2020, non-Hispanic Black women nationwide experienced maternal mortality rates nearly three times higher than those of their white counterparts, according to the National Center for Health Statistics.

This is the eighth piece of legislation brought before the General Assembly to require implicit bias training for health care providers since 2022.

House Bill 1458 – Limiting certain geriatric prisoners from petitioning the Parole Board for release

This bill from Del. Jason Ballard, R-Giles, would expand the list of offenses that prohibit a person from petitioning the Parole Board for conditional release as a geriatric prisoner.

Current law allows any geriatric prisoner serving a sentence for a felony offense other than a Class 1 felony — the most serious type of crime, such as capital murder — to petition the Parole Board for conditional release. The designation includes any person who has reached the age of 65 or older and has served at least five years of his or her sentence or anyone who has reached the age of 60 and has served at least ten years of his or her sentence.

Ballard’s legislation would expand the list of felony offenses that prohibit geriatric prisoners from petitioning the Parole Board to include crimes such as the murder of a pregnant woman, killing a fetus, lynching, acts of terrorism, kidnapping or abduction, robbery or carjacking, and treason, among others.

Lawmakers voted along party lines to move forward with the bill in subcommittee this week.

Senate Bill 1545 – Eviction and foreclosure relief for furloughed federal agency employees during a shutdown

SB 1545 from Sen. Aaron Rouse, D-Virginia Beach, would provide temporary relief from eviction and foreclosure proceedings for certain Virginians who are furloughed or lose wages or payments as a result of a partial closure of the federal government. Eligible residents would include employees of U.S. government agencies and contractors for those agencies.

Under these circumstances, an employee would be granted an extra 60 days of protection from eviction for nonpayment of rent if he or she provides written proof of being furloughed.

Additionally, a 30-day stay will be granted if an employee owns a one- to four-family residential property and faces foreclosure or if the property’s owner has a tenant who the federal government furloughed within 90 days of the closure or 90 days following the end of the closure.

The bill defines the closure of the U.S. government as a “closure of one or more agencies of the United States federal government for a period of 14 consecutive days or longer as a result of a lapse of appropriation.”

Senate lawmakers unanimously moved forward with the bill in a subcommittee last week and full committee this week.

The last federal government closure was in December 2018 and lasted 35 days – the longest in the country’s history.

by Meghan McIntyre, Virginia Mercury

Virginia Mercury is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Virginia Mercury maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Sarah Vogelsong for questions: info@virginiamercury.com. Follow Virginia Mercury on Facebook and Twitter.

Three interesting bills of the week: Pound charter, stillborn child tax credit and private police

Three interesting bills of the week: declawing cats, antidepressants and the UDC

Three interesting bills of the week: journalism tax credits, negligent fires and cyclist exemptions

 

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Despite public pushback, Board of Ed accepts draft history standards for first review

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A speaker holds up a sign supporting a draft of the history standards different from the version completed by the staff at the Virginia Department of Education. (Nathaniel Cline / Virginia Mercury)

 

The Virginia Board of Education voted to accept for first review the newest draft of Virginia’s hotly debated history and social science standards Thursday on a 5-3 vote.

President Daniel Gecker, Vice President Tammy Mann, and board member Anne Holton, all appointees of former Govs. Ralph Northam and Terry McAuliffe, opposed moving forward with the proposal over concerns that the introductory pages were too “political.”

“I did take my time and read through the January revision,” said Mann during a Wednesday work session, referring to the latest draft. “It is improved, but it is difficult to constantly have to navigate through these coded ways of dealing with elements of our history.”


Despite the concerns, board member Andy Rotherham, an appointee of Gov. Glenn Youngkin, on Thursday made a motion to move forward with the new standards.

“This process is not over,” he said, calling the proposal “good at this point in the process.”

The vote, which followed four hours of public comment, came after months of pushback by Virginians who criticized a lack of transparency in the authorship of changes that appeared in a November draft and the absence from it of influential figures and events. The final draft will set Virginia’s expectations for student learning in history and social science in K-12 schools, as assessed through the Standards of Learning tests.

Complicating the process was the decision to separate the standards from an accompanying curriculum framework. Superintendent of Public Instruction Jillian Balow has said the combination led to “vague” and “confusing information,” although one board member said the separation “created the conditions for confusion.”

The controversy over the standards, which under state law must be revised at least every seven years, has bled over into the General Assembly. Last week, legislation that would have required the Board of Education to publish a list of any consultants used in revising the standards and how much they were paid at least 30 days prior to a public hearing on a revision failed in a House subcommittee.

“This process is too important to our kids to leave it to conversations behind closed doors without transparency about who is deciding what will be taught in our schools,” said the bill’s patron, Del. Suhas Subramanyam, D-Loudoun.

On Thursday, Balow urged speakers to assess the standards and not base their opinions on “a specific set of talking points.”

“It’s not a long document, and it’s meant to be public-facing,” Balow said. “So I really hope that people take a look at the standards and find themselves, find their cultures, find their interests reflected in the standards because they are representative voices and work over the last two years. This is not a standalone document that was stood up over the last couple of weeks.”

January draft vs. alternative version

The board heard from dozens of speakers Thursday criticizing the newest draft, which they accused of “whitewashing” parts of history, requiring a high rate of memorization and excluding various issues such as geographical themes and the American labor movement.

“I’m concerned that this new revised standard is going to set education back in this commonwealth,” said Milton Hathaway, a parent of public school graduates. “There is no question about your commitment to education in the Commonwealth, but to pass this January standard is going to set our commonwealth back, and your name will be on the documentation.”

Martin Brown, Virginia’s chief diversity officer and director of the state’s Office of Diversity, Opportunity, and Inclusion, was a rare supporter to speak on Thursday.

“We believe the good, the bad, and the ugly have actually been communicated in the standards,” Brown said.

He added that the standards are “more robust” and have “more expanded content” about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the Indigenous people’s movement in America.

Additional remarks by Brown that the standards honored recommendations issued by the African American History Education Commission, however, stoked pushback from former commission members in attendance.

One member, Makya Little, told the Mercury no one on the commission knew Brown.

“We literally had no idea who he was,” said Little, who served as the commission’s parent advocate and is running for the House District 19 seat as a Democrat.

“What the Youngkin administration is doing is what the DeSantis administration is doing,” she added, referring to Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican who has publicly criticized what he calls “woke” ideas and “indoctrination” in schools. “They are just being more underhanded about it.”

The January draft included content from earlier drafts produced in August and November.

An alternative version was published by the Virginia Social Studies Leaders Consortium, Virginia Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, and American Historical Association in December.

Many speakers and groups urged the board to accept that alternative version, which its crafters said aimed to “ensure that content was accurate, age-appropriate, inclusive, and vertically articulated in a manner that supports a natural progression of content, depth, and skill acquisition.”

However, a motion to substitute the alternative draft for the administration’s latest version failed 3-5, with Mann, Holton, and Gecker in favor.

Board member Anne Holton, a former Gov. Terry McAuliffe appointee, at the Virginia Board of Education business meeting on Feb. 2, 2023. (Nathaniel Cline/Virginia Mercury)

 

‘Restoring excellence’

On Wednesday, the board spent significant time debating the opening pages of the January draft, which included a discussion of the standards’ guiding principles, background, and context.

Mann urged the board to remove the section, which she said: “has a tone that is [more] partisan than is needed in this kind of document.” She particularly objected to a statement that the new draft would “restore excellence” to Virginia education.

“The standards are not our problem, in my humble opinion,” Mann said. “This is a revision of 2015 [standards]. If we have issues with how students are performing on assessments, that deserves to be understood because that may not be due to our standards lacking, but it actually may also be associated with the fact that they may not have access to instruction that is qualified to teach the high standards.”

Holton also expressed opposition to the phrase, which she said could be interpreted as a reflection on current and future educators.

“How are we going to retain qualified teachers when we tell all the teachers across the commonwealth and all the curriculum educators that we need to restore excellence because they’ve decimated it?” Holton asked. “I think it’s the wrong way to start out this document.”

Youngkin appointees Suparna Dutta and Bill Hansen disagreed, with Dutta calling the draft “fantastic” and Hansen saying he viewed the introductory pages as “a call to action” after the recent drop in assessment scores statewide.

“I’m viewing this as more of a call to action, a call to help change things because if we keep going on the trajectory we’re going, it’s not a good one,” Hansen said.

Public hearings are scheduled to begin on March 13 and run to March 21 at five locations in Virginia, according to Virginia Department of Education staff. Final approval is expected on April 20.

Gecker said he expects line edits to be conducted after public comments.

 

by Nathaniel Cline, Virginia Mercury


Virginia Mercury is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Virginia Mercury maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Sarah Vogelsong for questions: info@virginiamercury.com. Follow Virginia Mercury on Facebook and Twitter.

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Elite cross-country runners race in Virginia for Team USA spot

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Top distance runners in the country recently competed at Pole Green Park in Hanover County for a chance to land a spot on Team USA in the upcoming World Athletics Cross Country Championship in Bathurst, Australia.

Over 450 participants participated in the USA Track, and Field Cross Country Championship held on Jan. 21 as part of the Richmond Cross Country Festival. There were 12 qualifying Team USA spots between the men’s and women’s teams.

Professional runner Emily Durgin, who represents Adidas, competed in the women’s 10K and punched her ticket to the World Championships.

“I did not really prepare much for this race, but I think that’s what made it just so fun and exciting,” Durgin said.


Durgin dropped out of the New York City Marathon last November for personal reasons, she said. She decided to take care of her body and rested until three weeks before the championship qualifier race.

“Not that I was necessarily planning on putting pressure on making the team and moving forward, but I knew I just wanted to compete, and I love to front run,” Durgin said.

Her training runs felt good, and she was ready to return to her cross-country roots, she said.

“I was like, ‘all right, let’s just kind of brush off the end of last year and start on a positive note and run hard from the front,’” she said. “I knew if I did that, it would produce a good result.”

Durgin has competed in national championships, but this will be her first time competing in the World Championships. She wants to ensure she does everything to set herself up for a good performance and represent USATF, USA, and her brand Adidas.

Runners were divided into sex and age brackets for the long distance 6 kilometers, 8 kilometers, and 10 kilometers races.

The six women who placed on Team USA in the 10K category were, in order: Ednah Kurgat, Makena Morley, Durgin, Emily Lipari, Weini Kelati, and Katie Izzo.

The six 10K runners who placed on the men’s Team USA were: Emmanuel Bor, Andrew Colley, Anthony Rotich, Leonard Korir, Sam Chelanga, and Dillon Maggard.

Pole Green Park has hosted cross-country championships more than five times, such as the Atlantic 10 Conference Championships, according to the Collegiate Running Association. The USATF Championship has never been held in Virginia, according to Steve Taylor, the race organizer. Taylor founded the Collegiate Running Association and coordinates with the USATF national development team.

Taylor was excited to see six years of planning become a reality.

“Yesterday, I was out at the course, and there were Olympians out there,” Taylor said. “Just jogging the course, and they’re right here in Richmond.”

Track and field fans came out to watch and buy Team USA gear from the onsite shop.

Organizers wanted this to be a community event, Taylor said.

“We wanted it to be free so people could come in and see our nation’s best cross country runners compete and earn a spot on Team USA,” Taylor said.

The day’s first race was a community 6K race, which brought 12 people to the starting line. A race for ages ten and under followed. The competitive races were underway by 10:30 a.m., with the last one at 2:50 p.m.

Top athletes from around the globe will compete in the World Championships in Bathurst, Australia, on Feb. 18.

By Janae Blakeney
Capital News Service


Capital News Service is a program of Virginia Commonwealth University’s Robertson School of Media and Culture. Students in the program provide state government coverage for a variety of media outlets in Virginia.

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Christine Binnix - McEnearney Associates

Code Ninjas Front Royal

Cool Techs Heating and Air

Down Home Comfort Bakery

Downtown Market

Dusty's Country Store

Edward Jones-Bret Hrbek

Explore Art & Clay

Family Preservation Services

First Baptist Church

Front Royal Independent Business Alliance

First Baptist Church

Front Royal Women's Resource Center

Front Royal-Warren County Chamber of Commerce

Fussell Florist

G&M Auto Sales Inc

Garcia & Gavino Family Bakery

Gourmet Delights Gifts & Framing

Green to Ground Electrical

Groups Recover Together

Habitat for Humanity

Groups Recover Together

House of Hope

I Want Candy

I'm Just Me Movement

Jen Avery, REALTOR & Jenspiration, LLC

Key Move Properties, LLC

KW Solutions

Legal Services Plans of Northern Shenendoah

Main Street Travel

Makeover Marketing Systems

Marlow Automotive Group

Mary Carnahan Graphic Design

Merchants on Main Street

Mountain Trails

Mountain View Music

National Media Services

Natural Results Chiropractic Clinic

No Doubt Accounting

Northwestern Community Services Board

Ole Timers Antiques

Penny Lane Hair Co.

Philip Vaught Real Estate Management

Phoenix Project

Reaching Out Now

Rotary Club of Warren County

Royal Blends Nutrition

Royal Cinemas

Royal Examiner

Royal Family Bowling Center

Royal Oak Bookshop

Royal Oak Computers

Royal Oak Bookshop

Royal Spice

Ruby Yoga

Salvation Army

Samuels Public Library

SaVida Health

Skyline Insurance

Shenandoah Shores Management Group

St. Luke Community Clinic

Strites Doughnuts

Studio Verde

The Institute for Association & Nonprofit Research

The Studio-A Place for Learning

The Valley Today - The River 95.3

The Vine and Leaf

Valley Chorale

Vetbuilder.com

Warren Charge (Bennett's Chapel, Limeton, Asbury)

Warren Coalition

Warren County Democratic Committee

Warren County Department of Social Services

Warren County DSS Job Development

Warrior Psychotherapy Services, PLLC

WCPS Work-Based Learning

What Matters & Beth Medved Waller, Inc Real Estate

White Picket Fence

Woodward House on Manor Grade

King Cartoons

Front Royal
45°
Cloudy
7:14 am5:39 pm EST
Feels like: 39°F
Wind: 7mph NNW
Humidity: 56%
Pressure: 30.22"Hg
UV index: 0
TueWedThu
55/43°F
63/43°F
63/48°F

Upcoming Events

Feb
7
Tue
8:00 am Chocolate Crawl
Chocolate Crawl
Feb 7 @ 8:00 am – 5:00 pm
Chocolate Crawl
The Front Royal Chocolate Crawl is back for its 3rd year, and it is BIGGER than ever. With over 20 businesses on our list, you’re guaranteed to find something amazing (to purchase) and meet some[...]
Feb
8
Wed
8:00 am Chocolate Crawl
Chocolate Crawl
Feb 8 @ 8:00 am – 5:00 pm
Chocolate Crawl
The Front Royal Chocolate Crawl is back for its 3rd year, and it is BIGGER than ever. With over 20 businesses on our list, you’re guaranteed to find something amazing (to purchase) and meet some[...]
6:30 pm Front Royal Wednesday Night Bingo @ Front Royal Volunteer Fire Deptartment
Front Royal Wednesday Night Bingo @ Front Royal Volunteer Fire Deptartment
Feb 8 @ 6:30 pm – 9:30 pm
Front Royal Wednesday Night Bingo @ Front Royal Volunteer Fire Deptartment
Bingo to support the American Cancer Society mission, organized by Relay For Life of Front Royal. Every Wednesday evening Early Bird Bingo at 6:30 p.m. Regular Bingo from 7-9:30 p.m. Food and refreshments available More[...]
Feb
9
Thu
8:00 am Chocolate Crawl
Chocolate Crawl
Feb 9 @ 8:00 am – 5:00 pm
Chocolate Crawl
The Front Royal Chocolate Crawl is back for its 3rd year, and it is BIGGER than ever. With over 20 businesses on our list, you’re guaranteed to find something amazing (to purchase) and meet some[...]
Feb
10
Fri
8:00 am Chocolate Crawl
Chocolate Crawl
Feb 10 @ 8:00 am – 5:00 pm
Chocolate Crawl
The Front Royal Chocolate Crawl is back for its 3rd year, and it is BIGGER than ever. With over 20 businesses on our list, you’re guaranteed to find something amazing (to purchase) and meet some[...]
Feb
11
Sat
8:00 am Chocolate Crawl
Chocolate Crawl
Feb 11 @ 8:00 am – 5:00 pm
Chocolate Crawl
The Front Royal Chocolate Crawl is back for its 3rd year, and it is BIGGER than ever. With over 20 businesses on our list, you’re guaranteed to find something amazing (to purchase) and meet some[...]
Feb
12
Sun
8:00 am Chocolate Crawl
Chocolate Crawl
Feb 12 @ 8:00 am – 5:00 pm
Chocolate Crawl
The Front Royal Chocolate Crawl is back for its 3rd year, and it is BIGGER than ever. With over 20 businesses on our list, you’re guaranteed to find something amazing (to purchase) and meet some[...]
11:30 am Galentine’s Brunch & Market @ Vibrissa Beer
Galentine’s Brunch & Market @ Vibrissa Beer
Feb 12 @ 11:30 am – 5:00 pm
Galentine's Brunch & Market @ Vibrissa Beer
Come Celebrate Friendship & Treat Yourself! Only 30 tickets available and they will go quickly. Tickets include: A Beautiful Brunch at Vibrissa Beer! Two tickets to a Mimosa Bar at Vibrissa! A Silent Auction at[...]
Feb
13
Mon
8:00 am Chocolate Crawl
Chocolate Crawl
Feb 13 @ 8:00 am – 5:00 pm
Chocolate Crawl
The Front Royal Chocolate Crawl is back for its 3rd year, and it is BIGGER than ever. With over 20 businesses on our list, you’re guaranteed to find something amazing (to purchase) and meet some[...]
12:00 pm Valentine Tea @ The Vine & Leaf
Valentine Tea @ The Vine & Leaf
Feb 13 @ 12:00 pm – 4:00 pm
Valentine Tea @ The Vine & Leaf
Please join us for tea and dainties on Monday, February 13th, at either 12 noon or 2pm! The event will be held at the Vine & Leaf (477 South Street, Suite F), with guest speaker[...]