VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) — Ahead of Virginia Beach City Public Schools’ annual budget process, a board member’s Facebook post has some worried there could be an attempt to strip funding away from the program teaching students from other countries the English language.
This week, School Board Member Victoria Manning posted to her personal page a four-sentence statement that addressed the increasing number of students participating in the system’s English as a second language (ESL) program and the growing funds VBCPS is dedicating to it.
The post concluded with Manning stating: “Continuing to educate South Americans is not sustainable.”
On Friday, a growing number of political groups, the Virginia Beach’s Human Rights Commission as well as the school division’s superintendent and several of Manning’s colleagues, released statements on her remarks. One even demanded an apology.
However, it’s still not clear exactly what Manning even meant by the post.
Manning is known for making social media posts that bring out a rise in others. In 2019, a post she made that detailed displeasure with a sitting Virginia House delegate was investigated by Capitol Police when she wrote that she was planning on purchasing “an arsenal.” More recently she has pushed for the removal of books from school libraries for possibly violating the school’s equity policy.
Her recent post came after a briefing on the district’s ESL program during Tuesday’s board meeting.
Dr. Nicole DeVries, director of K-12 and Gifted Programs, laid out how the district currently has 43 locally-funded ESL teachers, an increase of 12 from 2021. She said the number of student participants is up from 1,768 in 2020-21 to 2,084 in the current school year.
Superintendent Dr. Aaron Spence is requesting more than $800,000 for eight additional full-time positions for the 2022-23 school year and for the revision of current contracts to 10 months.
DeVries explained the top four languages students speak when they start the program are Spanish, Tagalog, Mandarin Chinese and Vietnamese. She said, without a doubt, the majority of students are Spanish-speaking.
Following the presentation, Manning asked “are those primarily coming from South America?”
“Various countries, but I can tell you that we do have a large population coming from our Central American countries,” DeVries said.
To this, Manning said “thank you” but made no further comments until her post on Facebook.
The post quickly circulated around social media, with many calling her rhetoric “hateful.”
“I don’t understand the motivation for the hurtful comments made by this individual,” Luis Rivera, a member of the Virginia Beach Human Rights Commission, said Friday. “When you say and specifically mention Latin Americans, you’re telling me indirectly that you have something against people that are brown or Black or Indian or aboriginal and so on that come from south of the United States border — and other people are OK but Latin Americans aren’t. Something’s wrong here.”
Luis went on to say that ESL courses help students better assimilate, deal with their peers and become tax-paying citizens.
“ESL [has] been taught for decades with a great success record,” Rivera said.
In a joint statement, Virginia Beach School Board Chair Carolyn Rye and Vice Chair Kim Melnyk assured “we personally do not condone nor support our colleague’s comments about our ESL program,” and that “our community should rest assured we will continue to teach and embrace every child who walks through our doors.”
The Virginia Beach Democratic Committee demanded that “Mrs. Manning retract her statement and issue an apology. Dog whistle statements have no home in our inclusive and diverse city.”
At this point, Manning has not done that.
On Friday, Manning told 10 On Your Side via text message, “I support our ESL program and we have some great ESL teachers.”
She appeared to try and justify her post by placing it around the district’s ongoing staffing shortage.
“We are short 100 teachers and now have to add 8 more ESL positions. We don’t have the staffing to keep up,” Manning said. “If you have a program with an increasing number of students with fewer teachers then the program is unsustainable.”
Manning never specified why she singled out “South Americans.”
In a statement, Spence, the division superintendent, argued the program is the definition of sustainability.
“I believe our core work is to educate children — all children. In VBCPS, we stand on the fundamental belief that every child who comes to us deserves to feel they belong and feel loved. Teaching and caring for our students, whoever they are, is the most sustainable part of who we are. No matter what else happens, we will continue to keep that as our core mission and we will celebrate the diversity that makes our community so vibrant and wonderful.”– Superintendent Dr. Aaron Spence
“It is a basic human right, under the 14th amendment, and a moral imperative to ensure that every student in our city, without regard to race, creed, or ethnicity, receives a free and appropriate education.
“Learning English, in our public schools, is not a new concept. Fortunately, our local history is filled with stories of immigrants from many countries learning English in our schools. We are blessed to be an inclusive community that welcomes families from across the globe to our fair city. These families make a great contribution to our city and want their children to have every chance to achieve their given potential. To cancel one segment of our community is to cancel our entire beloved community.”-Virginia Beach Human Rights Commission