Loudoun County Schools Revise Speech Policy After Teachers' Union Blowback

Ashburn, Va., classroom / Getty Images
October 6, 2020

The Loudoun County, Virginia, Public Schools district will revise a proposed speech policy, which would have prohibited teachers from criticizing the district's racial equity plan, following backlash from the teachers' union and a Washington Free Beacon report.

Leadership from the Loudoun Education Association, the district's largest teachers' union, told the Free Beacon that a school board member plans to take the speech policy off of the upcoming board meeting itinerary, effectively stalling any vote. This change will allow the human resources department to "revise and review" the policy that, as currently written, prohibits employees from criticizing the school district's "commitment to action-oriented equity practices" in all forms of public and personal communication.

Loudoun Education Association president Sandy Sullivan held a meeting with Loudoun County school board administrators and human resources on Monday to discuss the union's concerns about the policy. After the meeting, Sullivan said the policy's planned implementation appears to be less rigid than what the text of the policy indicates, though she feels strongly that the language should be revised to accurately portray the district's expectations.

"Going through a conversation with [the school board], it sounded like the policy seems not as harsh as it was at first reading," Sullivan said. "It needs to be clear that people shouldn't have to ask questions to understand what the policy means. Employees should be able to pick up the policy and read it and understand what the expectations are."

Teachers were upset with the policy proposal, which prompted immediate concerns from the union. Sullivan told the Free Beacon she wanted "to make sure employees can speak freely without repercussions," which is not what the policy in its current form permits.

Following the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement, approximately 4,500 classrooms across the country are teaching some form of critical race theory or the New York Times's 1619 Project, both of which present the American founding as intrinsically racist. If the proposed speech code is passed, Loudoun County would be one of the first school districts nationwide to codify critical theory into public policy, rather than just incorporating it into teaching materials.

Parents are also speaking out against the new policy proposals. A group called Parents Against Critical Theory (PACT) created a website that highlights the Free Beacon's reporting on the school district's $422,500 equity training spending haul and its collaboration with the Southern Poverty Law Center to create a "social justice" curriculum and "Comprehensive Equity Plan."

Scott Mineo, who runs the PACT website, told the Free Beacon that parents are worried that even if the policy is altered or voted down, it won't be enough to deter "radical" administrators. "The board and the superintendent have already passed this 'Comprehensive Racial Equity' plan unanimously. Even if this proposal to punish teachers fails, I don't think for a minute that they don't have something else radical and unconstitutional up their sleeves," Mineo said.

According to City Journal writer Christopher Rufo, an elite law firm has said that it will represent teachers who want to fight the policy in the event it does pass. Rufo said the law firm has spoken with potential plaintiffs but told the Free Beacon that there are no new updates at this time.