Wednesday, October 4, 2023

WJCC School Board Reverses Decision to Nix History Textbooks

The WJCC School Board revisited a previous vote regarding the adoption of social studies textbooks during Tuesday night’s meeting. (Courtesy of Unsplash)

WILLIAMSBURG-JAMES CITY COUNTY — Williamsburg-James City County (WJCC) students and teachers will now have new social studies textbooks in time for the start of the upcoming school year.

In a rare moment, the WJCC School Board revisited a previous vote to purchase new social studies textbooks during its Tuesday, May 3 work session. The board voted to suspend application of a policy for textbook selection and adoption and approve all four social studies textbooks.

The controversial book in question was the Advanced Placement (AP) U.S. Government and Politics textbook “Government in America: People, Politics, and Policy, 2020 Presidential Election Edition.”

During the April meeting, the school board heard criticism over the textbooks from several citizens over concerns regarding critical race theory (CRT).

The textbook was one of four recommended by textbook committees comprised of a curriculum coordinator, teachers, specialists, parents, administrators, and a school board member. The goal was to meet the social studies resource and textbook needs for Virginia Studies, AP U.S. History, AP U.S. Government and Politics, and AP Economics.

The board was to vote on the request for the adoption and purchase of social studies textbooks and instructional materials at a total cost of $130,921.19, and an associated budget transfer.

The board denied the request in a 4-3 vote, with Vice-Chair James Beers, along with board members Kyra Cook and Kimberly Hundley voting in favor. Board members Sarah Ortego, Sandra Young, Julie Hummel and Chairman Greg Dowell voting against it.

The controversy was not just over the book itself, but over Policy IIAA, which states “The evaluation of textbooks will be conducted by committees appointed by the board.”

Ortego, who voted against the adoption of the textbooks at the previous meeting and again at Tuesday night’s meeting, noted that the textbook committee was not appointed by the board, meaning that the division did not comply with the policy.

To remedy any inconsistencies with a policy, the board can vote to suspend application of said policy. 

The discussion Tuesday night was tense as the board members spoke about their decisions at the previous meeting and whether or not the board should suspend the policy.

“I do truly believe that for this board to suspend the policy in this way is a manipulation of the system,” Dowell said. “It lacks integrity.”

Hummel said that her decision at the previous meeting to vote against the textbooks was based on “surprise” by remarks made during public comments and wanted to seek additional time to evaluate the textbook.

“At no time was my decision a final one,” Hummel said. “I simply wanted more time to understand the criticism and seek clarity.”

In a 4-3 vote, the board voted in favor of approval to suspend application of Policy IIAA, with Beers, Cook, Hummel and Hundley voting in favor, and Ortego, Young and Dowell voting against.

The board also voted to approve all four social studies textbooks in a 4-3 vote, with Beers, Cook, Hummel and Hundley voting in favor, and Ortego, Young and Dowell voting against.

The WJCC School Board will hold its next regular meeting on Tuesday, May 17 at 6:30 p.m. in the James Blair Middle School Gymnasium, 101 Longhill Rd.

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