Governor Ralph Northam approved legislation on Thursday to require cultural competency training for educators to be licensed by the Virginia Board of Education. HB 1904, introduced by Delegate Clinton Jenkins (D-Suffolk), and companion SB 1196, introduced by Senator Mamie Locke (D-Hampton,) require that anyone seeking licensure or re-licensure must complete cultural competency training by the beginning of the 2022-2023 school year. Licenses with social science or history endorsements require additional training in African American history.
“HB 1904 sets out certain training and professional development requirements that would equip all Virginia educators with the skills necessary to sustain culturally responsive classrooms. This legislation aims to ensure that history and social science teachers have a specific content knowledge to teach African American history with sensitivity and confidence,” Jenkins told the House Education PreK-12 subcommittee in January.
Northam’s Secretary of Education Atif Qarni spoke in favor of the bill. “This bill is the direct result of the commission that the Governor set up on African American history education. And that commission was made up of a lot of historians, educators, national experts, civil rights leaders and faith leaders. They came up with a robust set of recommendations, so we’re here to show full support for this bill,” Qarni said.
In the Education committee later in January, Delegate Glenn Davis (R-Virginia Beach) asked if there would be similar requirements for other groups including Hispanics and Native Americans. Delegate Schuyler VanValkenburg (D-Henrico) said there was already a commission working on developing those recommendations.
Davis replied, “Am I to expect that to get a licensure in teaching, or to renew your license, there will come a time in the very near future that you will have to pass a complete instruction for Native American history, Latino history, maybe Greek history? Obviously African American history. I’m just wondering how far this goes and how long it will now take to renew your license.”
VanValkenburg said, “I would argue that we want teachers who can teach all of our kids, and can teach all of our kids history. And that should be incredibly important, because when kids go to school, one thing that ties them to their school is understanding who they are and who their ancestors are and how they fit into history.”
He said, “Whether that’s a separate class for all those things, I think that’s kind of a ridiculous thing to say, but does it mean that educators are going to learn more about other people in Virginia? Sure.”
On the House floor, Republican legislators expressed concern that there was no definition of cultural competency in the bill. Democratic legislators said the definition would be worked out by the regulating agencies and the courts, which they said is standard legal practice.
The Virginia Commission on African American History Education in the Commonwealth report defines cultural competency: “Having an awareness of one’s own cultural identity and views about difference, and the ability to learn and build on the varying cultural and community norms of students and their families.”
In the Senate Education and Health committee in January, Family Foundation spokesman Josh Hudson also expressed concerns about the definition of cultural competency in the bill.
“We recognize that Senator Locke was trying to do a very good thing. We believe that cultural competency is important for everyone to exercise and know about, especially teachers within schools,” Hudson said. “That being said, we do have some concerns about this term cultural competency. We believe it could tend towards viewpoint discrimination.”
He said, “The word may be so broad that it’s very difficult to know how to interpret it. One of the things about this bill is that it would include in a teacher’s annual evaluation their cultural competency. So, that makes it very challenging as a matter of free speech, free expression of different ideas.”
Hudson said Loudoun County Public Schools had recently introduced critical race theory into school policy and kept teachers from speaking out against it. He said, “This created a lot of backlash with the teachers. Even the local [Virginia Education Association] chapter came out and opposed this.”
“The discussion became about, would teachers need to be able to have some freedom speech,” Hudson told the senators. “I think ideally you could do that and have cultural competency. The challenge is how do we define that.”
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