The latest school board meeting in northern Virginia’s Loudoun County showcased heightened tensions as parents fought to have a say in local school policies. A total of 259 people signed up to speak at the June 22 meeting, and hundreds rallied for hours outside the school administration building in Ashburn.
About 1 1/2 hours into the meeting, the school board ended the public comment, after the audience cheered on a speaker. The board members then left the room as the audience chanted “shame on you.” Some audience members stayed and made spontaneous speeches while standing at their seats. The superintendent of Loudoun County Public Schools (LCPS) declared the audience to be engaged in an unlawful assembly and advised those that remained that they could be charged with trespassing. Several refused to leave.
According to the county sheriff’s office, two men were arrested. One was released on a summons and one taken into custody under charges of disorderly conduct and resisting arrest. The school board resumed the meeting later and completed its agenda, according to LCPS public information officer Wayde Byard.
School Board Members Allegedly Targeted Parents in Private Facebook Groups
Fight for Schools, an organization representing LCPS parents, launched an effort to recall six school board members. It began with a private Facebook group called “Anti-Racist Parents of Loudoun County.” The recall petition accuses school board member Beth Barts of calling for action on Facebook to identify and target LCPS parents who opposed the teaching of critical race theory (CRT). Barts and the five other school board members allegedly infiltrated the private group.
Barts didn’t respond to a request for comment by press time.
Kraig Troxell, the public information officer for the Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office, told The Epoch Times on June 21 that the office is contacting social media platforms, including Facebook and email venues, to verify the identities of the private Facebook group members.
Jessica Mendez, an LCPS parent, said at the June 22 school board meeting that parents discovered a second private Facebook group in which seven on the Loudoun County School Board are current members, despite an ongoing investigation by the county sheriff’s office of the first one. She said that she obtained a target list of members of the first private Facebook group and reported it to the sheriff’s office.
Erin Dunbar, a mother of three who attend public schools in Loudoun County, said that she found out she was on the target list after calling for the school to reopen. After learning that some other parents were on the same list for speaking against CRT, she did some research and then joined them in criticizing the theory.
Is Equity Critical Race Theory?
On June 1, LCPS Interim Superintendent Scott Ziegler released a report, “Promise and Progress: Report on Equity 2021,” about the school system’s progress on its ongoing “equity” efforts, which include training for staff members on “racial consciousness” and “culturally responsive instruction.”
Byard told The Epoch Times in an email that “CRT and the equity program are not the same things,” adding that Ziegler has repeatedly said that the school system doesn’t include CRT in its curriculum.
Jeremy Wright, an LCPS teacher, disagrees. He said that the superintendent might be “parsing words,” as in his view, the equity framework matches the central principles of CRT in many ways, including emphasizing that racism is systemic rather than an individual act.
Despite feeling “intimidated” during his first training session in March 2020, Wright is now outspoken.
“I had to come forward,” he said. “Some of my students are going to feel the division between themselves before they’ve even gotten to know each other. It’s not OK for them to come into my classroom and feel like I’m an oppressor before they even get to know me. And it’s not OK for Hispanic or black students to feel like the system is stacked against them and that they can never be successful.
“All those things are going to affect my students negatively. And I’m not OK with that.”
He said that he had attended three equity training sessions, in the spring and fall of 2020 and this past spring. He said teachers were told early in the activity that “cultural competence was eventually going to be part of [the] evaluation process.”
“To me, that meant, ‘Accept it, or this could affect how we grade you and your job performance.’ It seems like it will lead to firing if they need to,” Wright said.
Mike Gonzalez, a senior fellow at The Heritage Foundation, said that educators are steering away from the name “critical race theory” as more parents push back. He published a CRT checklist on June 21 to help people recognize it by its principal traits. In his assessment, LCPS’s Comprehensive Equity Plan is a version of CRT, while CRT itself is a repackaged form of Marxism that sets out to “completely undo the American system,” he told The Epoch Times in an interview on June 22.
Equity training has become a “money-making business that facilitates the embedding of an ideology,” according to Elizabeth Schultz, a two-time Fairfax County School Board member and former Department of Education officer.
“And the ideology is, certainly when you look at the groups that are behind this, subverting the will of parents,” she said. “You’re breaking down the family. The nuclear family is at risk.”
She noted that what’s happening in LCPS isn’t unique.
“What happens in Virginia is a bellwether and a wakeup call to parents across the country, that you have to pay attention to those local races because those local races are actually the most dangerous for your child. They have the most ability to affect change and alter our entire culture,” she said.
Lawsuit Against Loudoun County’s Equity Plan
One day after the LCPS superintendent released the equity plan, parents filed a lawsuit (pdf) against the school board regarding the Equity Ambassador Program outlined in the plan.
Daniel Suhr, lawyer for the plaintiffs and managing attorney at the Liberty Justice Center, commented in an email to The Epoch Times: “These families are invested in Loudoun County, live here, pay taxes here, and want to send their kids to schools that focus on getting them college and career ready, not indoctrinating them into a divisive political ideology.
“They want a court order in place this fall to ensure their children and all LCPS students can go to school without having to fear that any comment could anonymously be reported to the thought police.”
Parents Demand Accountability
As of June 21, Fight for Schools has gathered between 32 percent and 76 percent of the number of signatures required to recall the six school board members. The amount of signatures needed to submit a recall is at least 10 percent of the number of votes a school member received when taking office.
Ian Prior, spokesperson for Fight for Schools, said the next immediate goal will be door-to-door efforts in the Leesburg school district, where Barts is the school board member. The group has collected 75 percent of the signatures required, with 281 signatures still needed to enact a recall.
“The key factor here is a school board that is not accountable to the parents, grandparents, and the taxpayers of Loudoun County,” Prior said, adding that CRT is a “big brick” in the recall effort, but there are other bricks.
Before the meeting on June 22, a campaign called for donations to bus supporters to a “Loudoun for All” rally to “stand up against hate and intolerance in our school system,” on ActBlue.com, a fundraising platform for Democratic candidates and progressive organizations.
Parents expressed concern that the school board meeting’s online sign-up sheet for speakers was opened a day earlier than usual. Byard said that the early opening was due to the observation of Juneteenth on June 18.
It was unclear whether out-of-county people were mobilized to speak and attend the meeting. However, the first 10 speakers were all for Policy 8040 (pdf), “Rights of Transgender and Gender-Expansive Students.” Some also mentioned support for CRT. Fifteen out of the first 20 speakers spoke for Policy 8040. As the meeting went on, more parents spoke against the LCPS policies, and their voices continued one after another until former state Sen. Dick Black, the last speaker, who received enthusiastic applause from the audience before the school board members walked out.
“What we’re doing is we’re shining the light on what this board is doing,” Black told The Epoch Times. “This board has had a secret enemies list. And the enemies list is designed to intimidate and to punish people who stand up against critical race theory and who stand up against this transgender madness that’s going on.
“So I gave my speech. And when I gave the speech, everybody just went crazy. And the board retreated.”