The Douglass High School Commemorative Committee, which was appointed by the Loudoun County School Board, said it is willing to study the operation of segregated schools and the sale of the Douglass School property as part of effort to examine the effects of exclusion in County committee co-chair Erica Bush told the Times-Mirror.
The Joint Board of Supervisors and School Board Committee learned in November it did not have the authority to form a task force for such a purpose and instead directed school staff to seek the commemorative committee’s participation.
“We have ties to the people that were impacted either we’ve lived through it or were descendants of the people that were impacted — so what better group than the people in this group,” she said.
Bush said the committee considered the offer for a month before arriving at the decision. She said a subcommittee will be formed and is expected to have a list of recommendations by August.
Supervisor Juli Briskman (D-Algonkian), who brought the original proposal forward and received support from the Board of Supervisors in September, said in November that she hoped to start sooner, but is optimistic for the venture nonetheless.
“Unfortunately, I still feel like we’re still kind of in limbo on the committee, but I’m hopeful that moving forward, we will be able to make progress in appointing an ad hoc or task force to study the issue and get the work done,” Briskman said.
The Board of Supervisors included in their direction to the joint committee a request to revisit the sale of The Douglass School property by the County-Wide League for $4,000, which was then conveyed to Loudoun County for $1, which came at the request of Chairwoman Phyllis Randall (D-At Large).
The Douglass High School Commemorative Committee, which includes graduates and appointees from local historical and preservation groups, as well as town and county governments, was appointed by the Loudoun County School Board with the goal of renovating the school, originally built in 1941.
Supervisor Kristen Umstattd (D-Leesburg), who serves as the co-chair of the Joint Board of Supervisors and School Board Committee, said staff is expected to return for an update in February. Supervisor Sylvia Glass (D-Broad Run) is expected to replace Umstattd as the co-chair contingent upon the board’s vote in January.
As reported earlier, Briskman has said there is evidence that the Board of Supervisors and School Board had in the past prevented Black students from receiving the same level of education as white students.
The evidence, she said, includes the Board of Supervisors’ vote in favor of a proposed amendment to Virginia’s Constitution to allow the use of public funds for private schools in 1956. Briskman said the motive of the board’s 1956 action was to reduce the cost of private education for white families who were trying to avoid integrated public school systems.
Action was also taken to prevent funding and building improvements for Black schools, including Douglass Elementary and Douglass High County Public Schools were segregated until the late 1960s, more than a decade after the landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Brown v. Board of Education, which ordered schools desegregated nationwide.
Community members, including those from the NAACP Loudoun Branch, supported making changes in the legislative processes for funding, increasing early awareness for access to preparatory classes and restitution for wrongdoings following the joint apology by the Loudoun County School Board and Board of Supervisors for the past operation of segregated schools in September 2019
Bush said because of the laws and policies targeting Black people during the Jim Crow Era, Douglass High School students and their descendants are playing “catch up” with regard of financial and education opportunities. She said she hopes one of the recommendations from the subcommittee will be to form a scholarship fund for the descendants that were impacted.
“What we want to do is say, ‘hey, as a result of what was done years ago to this community … what can we do together to make amends,’” Bush said.
Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) approved an initiative similar to Briskman’s, known as Executive Order 32 which established the Commission to Examine Racial Inequity in Virginia Law. The commission’s mission is to “identify racially discriminatory laws and the inequitable economic policies that shadow them.”
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