Black students are not faring any better in the Academies of Loudoun admissions process two years after an investigation by the state Attorney General’s Division of Human Rights found that the selection criteria unfairly discriminated against minorities.
The Academies of Loudoun program provides advanced STEM education and career readiness preparation for high school students.
A complaint by the Loudoun NAACP that students were denied admission to the Academies based on their race led to an investigation by Attorney General Mark Herring in 2019. That investigation found those admissions policies had a discriminatory impact on Black and Hispanic students. The school district committed to expanded outreach efforts to marginalized student groups, including Black and Hispanic communities and those from economically disadvantaged backgrounds. The changes included altering testing requirements and allocating the available seats on a geographic basis around the county.
Assistant Superintendent of Instruction Ashley Ellis shared preliminary information about 2021 admissions data with the school division’s Equity Committee on Thursday night, although the admissions data in its entirety is not yet available and will be presented to the full School Board in October. Administrators are comparing admissions metrics between 2019 and 2021, because COVID-related school closures make 2020’s less telling.
The findings left Loudoun NAACP member Robin Burke dissatisfied.
“It was extremely disappointing that the one group that this effort was supposed to focus on and improve failed miserably … For our African American students to fare the poorest in this effort is beyond belief,” Burke said.
The data shows that the representation of Black and Asian students among those who applied for, were offered seats, and accepted admission for the Academies of Engineering and Technology and Academies of Science this year was similar to that in 2019, when only one Black student was accepted. While the volume of white applicants was similar between the two years, more white students were admitted in 2021 than in 2019, according to the report. Hispanic applicants made “significant” gains, according to the presentation.
The Academies rolled out a beefed up recruitment effort to middle schoolers in 2019 to increase the applicant pool, which has resulted in students coming from a wider array of middle schools in the district. The outreach also led to significantly more students from economically disadvantaged backgrounds attending the Academies. The outreach involves offering virtual elementary school field trips to the Academies and virtual tours for middle schoolers. Moving forward, there will no longer be a $35 application fee for students.
“There are some specific outreach activities in support of certain student groups. But overall, we were increasing recruitment and outreach across the board,” Ellis said.
A report from the Equity Collaborative in 2019 found systemic racism in the school division. The district launched an equity initiative, which Superintendent Scott Ziegler presented to the public during a workshop in May.
The district examined racial equity in hiring of teachers and staff, and treatment of students. The district also implemented teacher training to identify how racial inequity can be battled in the classroom, described as Culturally Responsive Framework.
Those efforts, though, were met with resistance. Critics of the district allege that schools are using Critical Race Theory, which is an ideological framework that exams how racial inequity impacts society, and to which those critics object. Over the past 18 months, parents have claimed that the school district’s equity work is indoctrinating students with a liberal political agenda.
The full set of data on admissions to the Academies will be presented to the Equity Committee when it meets on Oct. 7.