Poor timing means three state education board seats lie vacant

While the governor appoints new members of the state education council, the state constitution stipulates that appointments are subject to approval by the Virginia General Assembly.

As two of former Governor Ralph Nortem’s appointments last year – those for Anthony Swan and Stuart Roberson – were made in the middle of the 2021 General Assembly, former Commonwealth Virginia Secretary Kelly Thomasson said it was decided to send the appointments too late. and the Senate for their confirmation.

Thomasson says it was a matter of logistics and time, although there are no “hard and fast rules” when appointees can be sent by lawmakers for confirmation.

“We are talking to the staff of P&E departments [privileges and elections] and clerk staff, and we say, “Okay, last time you want us to let us know about the meetings?” Thomasson said.

Since she says it’s “actually something superficial, a proforma that’s going on,” she didn’t think that not sending nominees for approval by lawmakers at the last session would be a big problem. In retrospect, she regrets not sending them earlier.

“If we only knew – and had a crystal ball – I would, of course, say,‘ Hey guys, we’ll make an appointment for these meetings very soon, ’” Thomason said.

Since Swan and Roberson were not confirmed by the General Assembly last year, their appointment had to be approved by the legislature this year – in the House of Delegates, which is controlled by the Republican Party.

A few days after the Democrat-controlled Senate blocked Yangkin’s election as Minister of Natural and Historical Resources Andrew Wheeler, the House of Delegates voted not to confirm 11 Nortem candidates in several state councils after 6 p.m. Friday. These included candidates for the Air Pollution Control Council, the State Water Control Council, the Safety and Health Codes Council, and the Virginia Marine Resources Commission.

House Majority leader Terry Kilgore (R-Scott) told Virginia Mercury that the move was “simply a matter of electing Glenn Youngkin … so he can appoint a majority of members and move forward with his priorities”.

Thomasson, who served as Commonwealth Secretary to former Gov. Terry McAuliffe and Nortema, is upset, especially in light of her office’s handling of board appointments from former Gov. Bob McDonnell’s administration.

“We had a situation where we had 40 people [from McDonnell] who served on their councils who were about to be fired because the Secretary of the Commonwealth was unable to submit them to the General Assembly for confirmation, ”Thomasson said.

“We did the right thing and we re-appointed all these people and brought them to the General Assembly so they could serve. And it was in a wide range of councils from the Tobacco Commission and the Office for the Development of Marine Winds, ”she said. “We could play politics and say… we will achieve [our own] dates. “

Confirmation of the teacher remained on the floor of the house

Three of the 11 blocked for confirmation were appointed by Nortem to the Virginia Board of Education. Two appointees – Stuart Roberson and Anthony Swann – have served on the board for the past year since their appointment last February.

Swan was also named Teacher of the Year in Virginia in 2021. He was the only one who actively worked as a public school teacher on the board; he is a math coach in the sixth grade of Benjamin Franklin High School in Franklin County. He also has two degrees.

“So for me it won’t be confirmed … it says a lot about the hidden tips of People’s Day,” Swann told VPM News. “What better way to have a voice in public education than a teacher. We know what we need, we are at the forefront.

“If we make decisions without the interests of children or teachers, then something is wrong,” Swan said. “Parents should have the right to vote, but teachers, students and administrators should also have a voice. And that’s why making decisions based on one sector of people … it’s not professional, especially when it comes to education. “

Swan, who spent most of his childhood in foster care, is not rumored to understand how a positive impact educators can have on students ’self-esteem. He gives his students Christmas presents every year to make sure they feel loved. Although he is disappointed to no longer serve on the state board of education, he says he will continue to advocate for students and faculty across Virginia.

“I am a well-educated black man who has gone through many challenges and difficulties to get to where I am today. I do not believe in serving politics. I believe in serving children, ”Swan said. “Our teaching profession should never be, and I repeat, never politicize for the sake of a hidden agenda. Now, more than ever, teachers and students need to be humanized. ”

Anthony Swan, Teacher of the Year 2020 in Virginia, works with students. (Photo courtesy of Swann)

Swan says his teaching experience has brought vital importance to the Board of Education. He was able to share details of his own experience of passing the Praxis test – required for teacher certification – and other factors that contribute to teacher shortages. Swan says he had to cheer on his own wife, also a Franklin County public school teacher who recently considered leaving the teaching profession.

“I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to ask her not to quit in the last two years. I can’t even tell you how many times she came home with tears in her eyes because she’s just so tired, feels invaluable and feels disrespected. And, you know, just to constantly remind her why, but sometimes, frankly, why a person just isn’t enough, ”Swan said.

“It’s more than just a coronavirus pandemic, we’re in a pandemic of an attack on education, we’re in a pandemic of educational inequality. And so that teachers feel it all during this time, it really says a lot about where we are. ”

Swan is supported by 2022 Virginia Teacher of the Year Daphne Fulson, who teaches at Chesapeake.

“We [teachers] we need representation, we need a voice, ”Fulson said. “Anthony believes that equal access is paramount in all areas of education. As well as speaking on behalf of teachers in the classroom, making sure our social and emotional needs are met. And make sure we have the things we need physically when it comes to resources.

“Anthony is being removed from the board … like a black man … I’m not going to talk on tiptoe with the thought that it doesn’t matter. This is important. And it makes us wonder why this Black Man was taken off the board? Where is the representative office? ” Said Fulson. “This applies, especially to me as a black man, I want to make sure there is someone who can speak out for me.”

Swan says he has visited about 50 schools across the state as teacher of the year, which he said has inspired students to ask questions about how they can get involved in expressing problems.

“If they [students] see Anthony advocating for them, kindling a fire so that they reciprocate and return to their community in a similar way, ”Fulson said. “They say, ‘Wow, look at this black man who stands up for me and does such great things… I can do something similar too.’

After mass resistance, the state constitution sought to isolate education

According to Southern historian James Hershman, the last time there was so much public controversy in Virginia over appointments to the Virginia Board of Education was in an era of mass resistance.

In 1957 the then lips. Thomas Stanley refused to reappoint two members of the State Board of Education who did not support mass resistance laws aimed at closing schools rather than integrating them. He replaced them with supporters of mass resistance.

“He directly punished Blake Newton and replaced him,” Hershman said. Newton was replaced by Garland Gray, who successfully led the struggle to implement the Stanley Plan, which eventually led to the closure of schools in defiance of court orders for desegregation.

Because of the massive resistance in 1971, the state constitution was amended in an attempt to limit any political influence of a single governor on educational policy decisions.

The Youngkin administration did not answer Tuesday’s questions about who his team plans to appoint to the new three vacant board positions, if they plan to do so, and why the legislature has not recommended confirmation from Swan, Roberson and Wilson.

Now, according to the statute of the board, a quorum of four members is required to hold meetings, and only three can vote for a change in state education policy. The council is responsible for setting up new lab schools, one of Yangkin’s campaign promises.

The term of office of the two additional members of the Board – Keisha Anderson and Francisco Duran – expires on June 30, 2022. At this time, if new appointments are not made, two members of the three-member meeting may dictate policy.

The legal path to their replacement – as well as Wilson, Roberson and Swann – is uncertain due to language in the state constitution, which makes it clear that no more than three regular appointments to the nine-member Education Council can be made each year. .

Dick Howard, executive director of the 1971 Constitution Review Commission, told VPM News in a recent interview that the commission recommended gradual appointments to the Board of Education to ensure that “it will be some time before the new governor can put his stamp on the board.” and to “prevent strikes on schools every time an election is held.”

Catherine Ward, a law student at the University of Virginia who studied the state constitution, says that before the revisions of the state constitution in 1971, there was never a language that required chess terms for appointments to the board of education.

“They made that emphasis – indeed, for the first time – on stunning terms,” Ward said. “Much of the debate before has really focused on who will be appointed, how many members there will be and what their term of service will be.”

Ward says it is important to note that the 1971 committee emphasized a technocratic approach to education.

“I don’t think the council’s apolitical nature can be highlighted enough based on the original goals of the constitutional review commission,” Ward said. “Today we are witnessing much more debate that seems to be politicizing the Education Council. And I think we need to focus on what the developers really had. ”

Constitution expert Derek Black says what is happening in Virginia reminds him of what happened in Kentucky, where Gov. Andy Bashir dismissed many members of the Kentucky Board of Education on his first day in office.

“It’s a seizure of power that really goes beyond the original understanding of constitutional design,” Black said. “They are [board members] must exercise independent judgment. And now you have political actors who are trying to remove or replace people not so that they can express an independent opinion and do what is appropriate for schools, but so that they just do whatever the current governor wants them to do. “

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