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Youngkin opposes effort to eliminate George Washington as 'Father' of U.S. on SOL

Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin gestures as he talks with employees during opening ceremonies for the new offices of Empower AI Wednesday July 20, 2022, in Richmond, Va. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)
Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin gestures as he talks with employees during opening ceremonies for the new offices of Empower AI Wednesday July 20, 2022, in Richmond, Va. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)
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From George Washington to George Mason to Thomas Jefferson, changes may be on the way to what language is used in Virginia's Standards of Learning (SOL).

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Every seven years, the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) reviews SOLs. The VDOE discusses and sometimes proposes changes for the Virginia Board of Education to review.

7News was the first to report that two of the proposed changes to Virginia’s history and social science SOLs would have eliminated calling George Washington the “Father of our Country” and James Madison the “Father of the Constitution."

“I disagree with the removing of the nomenclature of George Washington as the father of our country, because of course he was and, of course, James Madison as the father of our Constitution. So all these standards still need significant work," Gov. Youngkin told 7News. "And we're going to reinforce as part of our curriculum, the role of our founding fathers in our country, we're not going to erode it.”

"I believe that we should tell our history accurately, the good and the bad. And part of the history we're going to tell is that our Founding Fathers, including George Washington, and James Madison, let's not forget about Thomas Jefferson and Patrick Henry and the others played an extraordinary role in the founding of our nation," Youngkin added.

After 7News' reporting, the VDOE reviewed the proposed changes and told 7News Tuesday that they determined it was an "inadvertent" error.

"Note the reference to this content being moved to VS.7a. It wasn't," a VDOE spokesperson told 7News. "This was inadvertent -- something that was supposed to be done but wasn't -- in making updates and edits to a 400-plus page document. The omission of the "Father of our Country" and "Father of the Constitution" language from VS.7a was noted in July - after the Board of Education meeting was canceled. The correction was made (adding the bullet to VS.7a) in an August 4 version of the draft SOLs [Standard of learning] that will be uploaded to the VDOE website today."

This is one of the items the new Virginia Board of Education is expected to discuss Wednesday in Richmond, Va.

7News has been reporting on the seismic political shift that is coming to the Virginia Board of Education.

READ | 'Parents are very outraged': Virginia Gov. Youngkin's new 9-member BOE to meet this week

The nine-member board is a mix of Terry McAuliffe, Ralph Northam and Glenn Youngkin appointees. Four members were appointed by Democrat governors, including the president of the board. The five new board members were appointed by Youngkin, a Republican.

“From the onset, this administration has really come across as anti-public education,” Atif Qarni told 7News on Monday. Qarni was former Gov. Northam’s Secretary of Education.

“I do feel that, right now, we're headed in a direction that is not really healthy for our educators and staff and that's why they're leaving in big numbers,” said Qarni. “You see that in the recent reports. So my recommendation for the Board of Education would be to really elevate the educators because they are on the front line supporting our children and try to get away from some of this toxic narrative that's been created by the Youngkin administration."

READ | 'Secrecy makes matters worse' | Second lawsuit filed against Youngkin for parent tip line

Qarni led the State Department of Education when Northam started the process of changing the history SOLs. Qarni said the Northam administration had a keen interest in changing the historical standards.

“These proposed changes, if they go through, as is, will really separate apart in the best possible way to take a holistic perspective and really teach our history because they both provide a balance between depth and breadth,” said Qarni. “And then they also create a system where [a] variety of perspectives can really be understood and comprehended. And teachers can really work with students to really understand their local communities, but also have a nice global perspective and connect the dots."

"We've brought together about 30 different historians. There [are] two different commissions so we had a commission on African-American history education that looked at these standards. And then we had another advisory committee called the Culturally Inclusive Practice Advisory Committee and both of them weighed in so actually, collectively it was about 60 different people---experts weighing in," Qarni continued. "And there was a lot of debate about what to strike, what to add, and so forth. And they came to a very broad consensus that they went line by line, of course, with an itemized list. Some of these changes were also done with the staff at the Department of Education who were doing their own research into what's the best way to frame things and educate on what was working out there. So stepping back to that high level, what makes me happy about these specific standards, is that it really embraces all of the variety of perspectives, and cultures, and untold stories and our history, which hasn't been done in the past. So it's really talking about all of the different contributions from all of the different groups. So that's the best thing about these innovations.”

Supara Dutta is from Fairfax County and she is one of the new Gov. Youngkin Board of Education appointees. Dutta recommends parents read the proposed changes to the social studies SOLs and let the board know how they feel about the proposed changes.

“Many parents have heard the governor say from time to time we want to teach the kids how to think not what to think,” said Dutta. “So I think that it would be great to be able to have a good, honest discussion and a full discussion about some of the changes that are coming up and the Social History and Social Sciences curriculum.”

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The Virginia Board of Education meets Wednesday. It is unclear if the new majority on the board will agree to the proposed changes to the history and social science SOLs.

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