Republican gubernatorial nominee Glenn Youngkin unveiled the first phase of his education plan, vowing to ban Critical Race Theory in schools, among other measures, during a campaign event last night outside of the Loudoun Public Schools Administration Building in Broadlands.
The first phase of Youngkin’s plan focuses on standards of learning in schools. He said the next two phases of the plan, addressing funding and empowering community members, will be shared in coming weeks.
Opposition to Critical Race Theory has been a galvanizing issue for conservatives across the county, amid claims that the academic theory is influencing curriculums throughout the division. The crowd of several hundred Youngkin supporters cheered when the candidate shared his plan to sign an executive order banning CRT.
While the School Board has gone to great lengths to dispel that misinformation surrounding its equity efforts, Youngkin insisted that there is evidence of CRT being used to train school staff.
“Loudoun County is ground zero for the fight to return our schools to a curriculum that prepares students for the future,” Youngkin said. “The classroom is not a place for a political agenda. … We must start teaching our children how to think. Not what to think.”
Youngkin spoke to reporters after the rally and was noncommittal on the school division’s proposed Policy 8040, which is intended to comply with a new state mandate providing protections for transgender and gender fluid students—the other electrifying issue for many conservatives in the county.
“I think we need to listen to parents and gather all the data, which they haven’t done a good job of. I would encourage school boards across Virginia to make sure that they have listened to families. … This is a tough issue,” Youngkin said.
While Youngkin said that policy makers are only discussing the issue, in 2020 the Virginia Assembly did pass legislation and the Department of Education created a model policy for school boards to use, which is very similar to the proposed Policy 8040.
The School Board has been accepting feedback on the policy over the past several months, and has heard hundreds of public comments from parents and activists. The board is required by state law to implement the policy before the start of the upcoming school year, and will vote on it during its Aug. 10 meeting.
Youngkin also said that, if elected, he would appoint a new Secretary of Education, a new Superintendent of Schools, and appoint an entirely new State Board of Education.
He emphasized school choice and the creation of more governor’s schools for excellence, such as Thomas Jefferson High School. He said he hopes to work with the private sector to avoid diverting funding from public schools to magnet and charter institutions.
He also excoriated the impact his opponent, former Democratic governor Terry McAuliffe, had on education throughout the state during his term from 2014-2018. Youngkin charged that during McAuliffe’s tenure, Virginia went from being one of the best states for education to one of the worst.
“When he was governor, he lowered standards, and he dragged our children’s performance down with those diminished expectations,” Youngkin said.
Youngkin pointed to Virginia dropping from seventh to 10th in the country in student achievement on advanced placement testing. And despite denials of racial inequity in schools, Youngkin emphasized that scores are lower among Black and Hispanic students.
He also charged that Virginia has a staggering statewide 62 percent failure rate of eighth grade math, a figure that astounded the crowd. Loudoun Now reached out to the Youngkin campaign for clarification after the event. Youngkin’s claim referred to a 2019 report from the National Assessment of Academic Progress, which showed that 37 percent of Virginiga students showed basic proficiency in math, while 25 percent showed below basic proficiency. A representative from the campaign clarified that they consider scoring below the NAEP proficient level a “failure.” In the 2018-2019 academic year, 80% of Virginia students passed the 8thgrade math SOL, with 9% achieving an advanced score.
“I often say that ‘Terry McAuliffe believes in every child left behind’,” Youngkin said.
The McAuliffe campaign has touted a plan to invest $2 billion annually into schools throughout Virginia.
Earlier in the day, during a virtual meeting for Virginia Democrats, Loudoun School Board Vice Chairwoman Atoosa Reaser (Algonkian) called on Youngkin to tone down his party’s divisive rhetoric about schools.
“Being a leader means focusing on what actually matters, not things that stoke fear and drive people to be divisive,” Reaser said.
While he didn’t address Reaser’s comments, Youngkin did emphasize bringing children together and teaching unity. He did not, however, acknowledge the social upheaval and tumult of last week’s School Board meeting.
While education has been the most contentious topic in Loudoun for nearly two years, only one protester demonstrated at the event. As Youngkin address the crowd for roughly 20 minutes, Andrea Weiskopf paraded through with a sign reading “If you aren’t here to protest systemic racism in LCPS, go home!” and wearing a Black Lives Matter t-shirt. The woman was followed by a few Youngkin supporters and incurred a few jeers.
Several groups came in support of Youngkin, including Parents Against Critical Race Theory and Fight for Schools.
School Board member John Beatty (Cactotin), who is seeking the GOP nomination for Virginia’s 10th District congressional seat, was in attendance. Beatty has been an opponent of the district’s equity work. He said the district is encouraging a radical version of racial equity education.
“I think it’s clearly there given that they give teachers the recommendation to read the book ‘How to Be an Antiracist’ by Ibram X. Kendi. They strongly encourage the Southern Poverty Law Center’s courses so teachers can take that, too,” Beatty said.
Ibram X. Kendi is an anti-racist author, historian, professor, activist and director of the Center for Antiracist Research at Boston University.