As Herring’s office reviewed that complaint, Loudoun school system issued the findings of an equity assessment it commissioned that detailed racist bullying at county schools and that determined students of color were subjected to a “hostile learning environment.”
In the letter, which the school system provided, Herring’s office said it would “conduct an investigation into the allegation relating to the Academies of Loudoun and the incidents described in the 2019 equity assessment.”
School system officials said they are cooperating with the investigation and have provided an initial response to the state.
“Loudoun County Public Schools is committed to providing a safe, inclusive, equitable, respectful and supportive learning environment for every student,” the statement said.
A spokeswoman for Herring declined to confirm the existence of an investigation.
Michelle Thomas, president of the Loudoun NAACP, who issued a news release about the investigation Tuesday, said the chapter has worked with parents since April to compile the “most egregious” experiences families have faced and share them with Herring’s office.
“Somebody is finally looking into our concerns,” Thomas said. “Discrimination is not just rampant, it’s systemic.”
The Loudoun NAACP was also sent a letter Oct. 3 notifying the group that the division of human rights in Herring’s office had “accepted your complaint for investigation against Loudoun County Public Schools,” according to a copy of the letter provided by the Loudoun NAACP.
Thomas said the chapter had been working with the school system to address the “denial of access to challenging curriculum,” including students’ access to gifted programs and AP classes.
But the sides reached an impasse after the Loudoun NAACP said the school system did not apply a "holistic approach to admissions."
“They were still using the old criteria to assess the applicants,” Thomas said. “They were willing to go another year disenfranchising African American students.”
The magnet programs that make up the Academies of Loudoun have existed in some form in the school system for years. But it was not until 2018 that the programs began operating in the same space — a sprawling 119-acre campus in Leesburg.
Students split their time between a base high school and the $125 million Academies of Loudoun building. There, they take specialty courses within one of three academies — the Academy of Science, the Academy of Engineering and Technology, and the Monroe Advanced Technical Academy, which offers vocational training.
The Loudoun NAACP has long called attention to the underrepresentation of African American students in the Academy of Science and the Academy of Engineering and Technology.
For the first-year class admitted for fall 2019, two black students were enrolled in the Academy of Engineering and Technology and three black students were enrolled in the Academy of Science, according to data provided by the Loudoun NAACP.
By comparison, 79 students who enrolled in the Academy of Engineering and Technology for the first time in the fall were Asian and 62 were white. In the newest Academy of Science class, 102 students were Asian.
The investigation by Herring’s office arrives at a time when Loudoun school system officials have been under a microscope for their handling of racial incidents. The equity assessment commissioned by the school system earlier concluded that school system employees have a “low level of racial consciousness and racial literacy” and that people were fearful and unsure of how to talk about race.
The report documented a slew of findings, including incidents in which students of color have been taunted with racist slurs and insults. The report, which was produced by the Equity Collaborative, a national consulting firm, issued four primary recommendations.
In August, Williams, the superintendent, issued a statement condemning white supremacy and other forms of hate, heeding the first of the recommendations.
“When students and staff experience racial insults, slurs, and/or other hate speech, we lack the positive culture and climate that supports students’ growth,” Williams said in the statement, adding that the school system “rejects racist and other hateful behavior and language, recognizing that it encourages discrimination, hatred, oppression, and violence.”
Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly said the Loudoun NAACP reached an impasse with Loudoun County Public Schools when the school system declined to extend the deadline for the Academies of Loudoun applications. This version has been corrected to reflect that the impasse was reached after the Loudoun NAACP said the school system did not apply a "”holistic approach to admissions."