The Potential Mistake of Alienating Suburban Parents

October 21, 2021 Updated: October 24, 2021

Commentary

The Democrats may be learning the hard way that it’s a mistake to alienate suburban parents. In particular, that it’s a mistake to say that parents shouldn’t be able to tell schools what to teach their children, or to brand them as participants in “domestic terrorism” when they vocally protest the teaching of critical race theory (CRT), transgender use of school bathrooms, and other progressively fashionable but highly controversial public-school policies.

That’s why Terry McAuliffe, the popular Democratic governor of Virginia from 2014 to 2018 who it seems just days ago deemed a shoo-in in his bid for a second term on Nov. 2, is suddenly neck-and-neck with his Republican rival, Glenn Youngkin, a relatively obscure Virginia businessman.

Virginia is a purple state that turned blue during the first decade of the 21st century, with its liberal-leaning Northern Virginia suburbs providing solid majorities for Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and Joe Biden in the last three presidential elections. Yet, Youngkin is now trailing McAuliffe by only 3 percentage points, within the margin of error, according to a CBS poll released on Oct. 12. Other polls show McAuliffe with an even narrower lead.

One obvious reason: Those same Northern Virginia suburbs, especially Loudoun County, Virginia’s most populous and affluent jurisdiction, are CRT battlegrounds, with parents battling school boards over what the parents say is indoctrination of their children in the notion that racism is baked into American institutions, privileging whites over members of ethnic minorities. Angry parents across America have shown up at school board meetings and on social media to protest CRT-influenced curricula that they say foster crude anti-white hostility.

In a September debate with Youngkin, McAuliffe sided with the teachers’ unions and the progressive school boards that have been promoting CRT.

“I’m not going to let parents come into schools and actually take books out and make their own decision,” McAuliffe declared. “I don’t think parents should be telling schools what they should teach.” His polling promptly took a nosedive, and he’s now scrambling to maintain that his words have been taken out of context.

The Virginia governor’s race is supposed to be a bellwether for the midterm elections of 2022, when Republicans have a good chance of cashing in on current dissatisfaction with the Biden administration to recapture both the House and the Senate. A McAuliffe victory might distract the electorate from a string of Biden economic debacles, from surging inflation to lackluster job creation to massive disruptions in the supply chain that have meant empty shelves in stores and more than 100 container ships idling undocked in the Los Angeles harbor. A McAuliffe victory also might signal that the suburban political moderates who helped Biden into the presidency in 2020 in the first place are willing to support the massive-spending left turn that he and his fellow Democrats in Congress have taken since his inauguration.

But then, the Biden administration did something disastrous: Like McAuliffe, it signaled contempt for those very same suburban-moderate parents. On Oct. 4, Attorney General Merrick Garland issued a memorandum (pdf) instructing the FBI to set up a “partnership” with local law-enforcement authorities to investigate and “prosecute” dissenting parents, essentially for showing up at school board meetings and exercising their First Amendment right to express angry and sometimes rowdy objections to school policies.

The memorandum was a response to a Sept. 29 letter to Biden from the National School Boards Association (NSBA) accusing the protesting parents of engaging in “domestic terrorism.”

Footnotes to the letter listed about 20-odd incidents nationwide of supposed “threats” and “violence” against school board members and school personnel. While one or two of the alleged incidents involved conduct that was arguably criminal—an individual mailed a letter to an Ohio school board member stating, “We are coming after you”—most of the reported behavior was merely rude, or perhaps not even that. A protester in a Detroit suburb gave a Nazi salute to a school board member over a COVID-19 mask mandate for children, and a Tennessee parent mocked a student who had similarly advocated the wearing of masks by youngsters in classrooms. The most common verb in the footnoted news accounts describing the parental conduct was “disrupt,” and the most common adjective was “disorderly.”

One of the NSBA’s dutifully footnoted incidents, in Loudoun County, Virginia, proved certainly to be scandalous—for the Loudoun County school district itself. On June 22, a Loudoun County parent, Scott Smith, was arrested for disorderly conduct and dragged out of a school board meeting by police after trying to talk about the alleged sodomy of his ninth-grade daughter in the girls’ bathroom of her school by a boy allegedly wearing a skirt. The meeting was in part to discuss a proposed school district policy, mandated by a Virginia law signed by current Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam (formerly McAuliffe’s lieutenant governor), that allows transgender students to use the school bathroom that conforms to their self-identified gender.

At the June 22 meeting, Loudoun School Superintendent Scott Ziegler maintained that “we don’t have any records of assaults occurring in our restrooms,” triggering Smith’s emotions. In fact, the alleged perpetrator had reportedly been quietly transferred to another school, where he allegedly sexually assaulted another girl in an empty classroom, according to sheriff’s reports. He’s currently awaiting judicial disposition on both charges. Parent-activists are calling for Ziegler’s resignation.

Not surprisingly, both the NSBA’s letter and Garland’s memorandum have generated objections across the political spectrum. On Oct. 11, Maud Maron, a former Manhattan school board member and self-described “lifelong liberal,” published an essay on journalist Bari Weiss’s Substack page titled “Why Are Moms Like Me Being Called Domestic Terrorists?

Maron wrote: “You may disagree with parents like me who do not want our children indoctrinated with Critical Race Theory, masked during recess, or told that their biological sex is … not real. But in a free society, we don’t call the feds to police our fellow Americans because we don’t share their politics.”

School board associations in two states, Louisiana and Pennsylvania, have withdrawn their membership in the NSBA. On Oct. 18, the attorneys general of 17 states, led by Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita, signed a letter “demanding that the Biden administration immediately stop attempting to shut down parental participation through scare tactics and intimidation.”

On Nov. 2, and certainly in 2022, the Democratic Party may well learn that even suburban liberals and moderates react with hostility when they’re told by the government they have no control over the schools where their children spend most of their days.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.

Charlotte Allen is the executive editor of Catholic Arts Today and a frequent contributor to Quillette. She has a doctorate in medieval studies from the Catholic University of America.