The issue of equity for Hanover County students was raised Tuesday night even before the School Board heard the results of an equity data report it requested more than a year ago.
The report was the result of a school board policy passed in 2020 that was intended to assess the school division’s efforts to provide equitable resources, tools and supports for all students. It considered data in five areas: equitable opportunities, student achievement, discipline outcomes, human resources and resource allocation.
The stat-laden report offered a demographic breakdown that showed that of Hanover’s 16,519 students, the majority are white — 76.7% — while 9.5% are Black and 6.2% are Hispanic. More than 86% of the teachers are white, and most live in Hanover.
White students — and girls — are over-represented in advanced studies programs, such as IB and AP. Girls are under-represented in short-term suspensions, with white students comprising 64.5% of those who received the disciplinary action, while Black students made up 20.9% of suspensions — twice the rate as their population in the school system.
School Superintendent Michael Gill led the discussion at the board meeting by saying that equity “is a word that has [come] to mean many things to many people” and that when the board passed its equity policy last year, “it had a different meaning in your mind than perhaps has been portrayed by others.”
He was partly responding to events earlier in the evening.
Dozens of adults and children, members and supporters of the Hanover Patriots, a conservative community group that touts partnerships with Hanover’s law enforcement and school communities, held a rally in the school administration building parking lot before the 7 p.m. board meeting to protest “a year of frustrations,” said organizer Jessica McLane, concerns that include COVID-19 mandates as well as school policies relating to equity that they say reverse the work of the Civil Rights Movement.
The organization’s Facebook page posted an event alert ahead of Tuesday night’s rally that encouraged supporters to attend. The post said, in part: “We will use our 1st Amendment right to tell them we WILL NOT have our students indoctrinated with progressive politics, [Critical Race Theory], and other racist, divisive policies that they have been welcoming into our schools this year.” It also said the group will not stand for “any more mandatory masks, invasive COVID testing, unconstitutional quarantines, and social distancing in school.”
Tuesday night, McLane motioned at the crowd in front of her and said “this is America right here.”
Some people held signs that read “KIDS SHOULD BE COLOR BLIND” and “EDUCATION NOT INDOCTRINATION.”
Another sign said “SOCIAL DISTANCING IS FAKE SCIENCE.”
McLane said the existence of an equity audit means school officials “are looking for racism, they’re going to find racism and then they’re going to try to fix it ... even though it wasn’t there.”
McLane also said many parents are increasingly frustrated by the school division’s mask and social distance requirements.
“Overwhelming mountains of evidence show that this virus doesn’t affect children — absolutely no risk to them,” she said, adding that Hanover residents who want the vaccine have access to it and that vaccinations shouldn’t be encouraged in schools.
“The kids hate it, the parents hate it,” McLane said about the safety protocols, and “as time goes by, it’s harder and harder for [school officials] to justify with all that we know about the virus.”
During the board meeting, Gill said from an operational standpoint, equity in Hanover schools means “to provide every student with the resources and materials so that each child can maximize his or her success — it is not to limit the abilities or the opportunities of one in favor of another.”
School officials told the board that a team will be put together to examine next steps with regards to the findings.
When students without home internet services get access through school-issued MiFi devices, or students are guided to realize their potential in advanced classes they hadn’t considered, or even when students in crisis get mental health services that prevent suicide, “that is not a political agenda — that is your equity policy at work,” Gill told the board.
“We are not about political agenda-driven initiatives,” Gill said. “We are, and will continue to be, about assisting our students to be the best versions of themselves.”