To the Editor: Open Letter to Plaintiffs Suing the Albemarle County School Board

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Most communities likely struggle to some extent with racism and inequity, and embody diversity in one form or another, important factors that impact the nature of our communities and shape the development of our children into informed and engaged adults. We aim for our kids to learn tolerance and empathy for those who are not like them, and also to understand the norms and structures intrinsic to everyday life in a democratic and free society, those that reflect such principles as self-governance, equal representation, and in Virginia the authority of local boards of education to approve instructional aids and materials used in our public schools. The lawsuit that you have initiated demonstrates contempt for such principles and disregard for the rights and sentiments of the many of us who have supported, and continue to support, the curricular initiatives and efforts with which you disagree.

One plaintiff, Dr. Carlos Ibanez, wrote in the March 2022 edition of the Crozet Gazette that a video shown in his daughter’s class at Henley Middle School said that “. . . only those who go to good schools, get high-paying jobs, and practice the right religion can hope to make it in America, and only white people can do those things.” I have watched and listened to this video, and Dr. Ibanez’s account is untrue; these statements that he claimed were said in the video in fact were not. Rather, a short animation is presented depicting three students who represent various ethnic and/or economic groups acting out a scene in which some lack access to opportunities that are afforded to others, with racial or economic status implied as a contributing factor. My son also viewed this video and later asked me and his mother questions, expressing some discomfort with the subject matter. This led to further conversation, and then we moved on. We value that our children are exposed at times to difficult, sometimes even disturbing, realities through which they must reconcile their good fortune and myriad opportunities. This critically important issue is not the place for politicized propaganda and misrepresentation.

Dr. Ibanez also describes challenges that he and his wife faced in their native Panama. But we all have to deal with our own misfortunes and at times even tragedies. Consider our fellow citizens who are impacted by the scourge of drug addiction or mental health challenges, who are unable to provide their children access to private college counseling, or who can’t afford tuitions at elite universities. There is neither tolerance nor inclusivity without the willingness to listen to and become invested in the stories of those who are marginalized or otherwise less advantaged. As parents, we share the responsibility to provide our children access to the difficult truths that will foster their ability to pave a more equitable path forward. Thankfully our educational leadership understands this and has acted accordingly.

Dr. Ibanez goes on to declare “But I pay taxes in this community. I believe in the public-school system.” Indeed, we all pay taxes, and the majority of us who believe in the pubic-school system also subscribe to a community-based process of governance and oversight, and would rather not have our tax dollars spent to defend against an insidious legal action intended to advance one’s own partisan cause, especially one financed by an organization known to fuel hate and that has even suggested criminalizing LGBTQ+ individuals. This action is indefensible, and to date has served mostly to distract from the educational mission of our public schools, to lower morale among teachers and administrators, and to stall progress toward greater equity and inclusiveness within our community. I would encourage you, the plaintiffs, to abandon your lawsuit, and consider whether private rather than public school for your children might present a better option.

Jonathan Miles
Crozet

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