In this week’s newsletter, I join other Virginians as we grieve the young lives lost at the University of Virginia, highlight a conference sponsored by my office, and share some of my recent engagements in the District. Thank you for taking the time to read this newsletter and for staying informed.
Mourning Lives Lost at the University of Virginia On Monday morning, Virginians woke up to the horrifying news of another mass shooting on a college campus, this time during the early morning hours on the Grounds of the University of Virginia. In this terrible tragedy, we lost Devin Chandler, Lavel Davis, Jr,. and D’Sean Perry; two other students were also grievously wounded. All three young men held such promise of lives and dreams in their beautiful smiles, captured in photographs that have been widely shared in the public media.
A touching tribute that offers reflections from their professors, coaches, and friends has been published by UVA Today, and I encourage us all to read their stories.
Such tragedies leave scars of trauma for all who experience them, either directly or vicariously. For educators, staff, students and their families, gun violence in our schools and on our college campuses feels visceral and close. Though we may not teach or learn at this particular institution, these spaces of tragedy are familiar and intimate to each of us. And though we may have not known or seen these students in our classrooms, they are still ours. Their loss resonates with everyone who is a part of an academic community.
The UVA family, the Charlottesville community, and the grieving circles of family and friends are in my thoughts.
A Conference on English Learners On Tuesday morning, my office hosted a conference on the issues and challenges facing our English Learners (EL) in K-12 and EL teachers. I was joined in this discussion by the two members of the House with whom I am collaborating to develop legislation for the upcoming 2023 Session: Delegates John Avoli and Elizabeth Guzmán. I greatly appreciate Brightpoint Community College for offering us the space for this important discussion. We were joined by Virginia Superintendent of Public Instruction Jillian Balow and other representatives from the Virginia Department of Education. Most importantly, we were fortunate to be joined by teachers and staff from school districts across the Commonwealth, as well as associations such as Virginia TESOL, the Virginia EL Supervisors Association, the Virginia Education Association, and essential organizations including The Commonwealth Institute, CASA, League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), Edu-Futuro, and Voices for Virginia’s Children.
Nearly 1 in 10 of Virginia’s K-12 school students is classified as an English Learner, but Virginia’s ranking as sixth worst in the nation for EL graduation rates and third worst in 8th grade National Assessment for Educational Progress assessments indicate that we have committed insufficient resources to support this student population. Our discussion on Tuesday highlighted critical concerns: our EL teachers and staff have large classrooms, extraordinary caseloads, and face multiple challenges as they work to address the academic needs of a diverse student community.
During the 2022 General Assembly, I introduced legislation, with a companion bill in the House, (SB 156/HB 1184) to address our EL students’ needs by increasing staffing and by basing staffing ratios on the language proficiency levels of students. The Senate bill successfully passed the Senate, but unfortunately did not succeed in the House. I am thankful to Delegate Avoli, Vice Chair of the House Education Committee, who expressed interest in developing the legislation further this session.
We were especially honored to be joined by Ms. Fabiana Parker, Virginia’s 2023 Teacher of the Year, who shared her insights from many years in the classroom as an EL instructor. Ms. Parker has advocated for EL students and EL instructors across the Commonwealth, and her strong voice shines a critical light on issues facing so many of our school districts.
I look forward to continuing our collaboration with other members of the General Assembly, the Virginia Department of Education, educators, and organizations, as we further develop this important legislation.
This session, I am working with Delegate Avoli and Delegate Guzmán on legislation to support English Learners and the teachers working with this population of students in our K-12 public school system. We were joined for our discussion by Superintendent Jillian Balow.
Christian Martinez with CASA, Juan Santacoloma with Chesterfield County Public Schools, and Luis Martinez with Richmond Public Schools are just a few of the wonderful community partners with whom we continue to work as we develop legislation to support our English Learner student population.
Friday’s Veterans Day ceremonies at the Virginia War Memorial and in Chesterfield County were fine tributes to all those who have served or who currently serve in uniform. So many military members and their families have protected this country and its essential freedoms, and we honor them not just on Veterans Day but every day.
Food insecurity is a point of serious concern for many families in our community, and the approaching holidays remind us that a bountiful table is often out of reach for those who are struggling in this difficult economy. On Saturday, I joined Delegate Delores McQuinn and Richmond City Councilman Andreas Addison (pictured above) to help distribute a full Thanksgiving meal at Councilman Michael Jones’ annual Thanksgiving Turkey Giveaway. Many organizations, volunteers, and community resource agencies contributed to making this event such a success.
On Sunday, I traveled to Cumberland County to speak with members of the Cumberland County Landfill Association (CCLA) and hear their concerns about the mega-landfill scheduled to be sited in their community. This landfill will put the residents of this community at risk of major environmental hazards, and it also threatens the historic Pine Grove School, a landmark identified as one of Virginia’s Most Endangered Historic Places. Pine Grove School is one of the few remaining Rosenwald Schools in Virginia.
On Monday, I attended presentations by Advocates for Richmond Youth (ARY) on the struggles youth face in finding stable housing. Housing insecurity is a particular challenge for youth leaving foster care, public housing, and the juvenile justice system. The data, research, and personal testimonies that ARY provided were compelling.
After the Tuesday morning conference on English Language Learners, I joined the Virginia Nurses Association on a panel that included Delegates Sally Hudson and Keith Hodges and Senator David Sutterlein for a wide-ranging and thoughtful discussion on a variety of topics affecting our frontline healthcare professionals. Moderated by Dr. Ashley Apple, the discussion examined concerns about workforce shortages in the nursing profession, gun violence as a public health crisis, workplace violence affecting our frontline professionals, the need for school nurses, and much more.
As we saw in the recent midterms, American voters are ready to fight for abortion access and equitable reproductive rights. For my final Tuesday event, I joined a coalition of clinicians, legal experts, and advocates to discuss potential threats to health care. These threats are coming from Republicans at all levels: federal, state, and local. Glenn Youngkin has stated that he will sign any anti-abortion measure that comes across his desk, and Republican members of the General Assembly have publicly stated that they will present bills that impose severe and life-threatening restrictions to abortion access. As I shared during the panel discussion, Virginia’s Senate Democrats are committed to holding the line on protections for abortions.
On Wednesday, the US Capitol Christmas Tree stopped in Chesterfield County – its only stop in Virginia. It was a real honor to see the tree making its way to Washington, D.C. The beautiful red spruce and the annual tradition of selecting “The People’s Tree” from one of our national forests was celebrated at the 84 Lumber Company. I thank all of the representatives of 84 Lumber for hosting this festive event and also for making a generous donation to the Fisher House Foundation to support wounded veterans.
Connecting With My Office My staff continue to hold meetings with constituents via Zoom or by phone. You can sign up for a meeting with either of my staff members with our easy scheduling app: