BY TERRI WU June 23, 2021
Updated: June 23, 2021
The latest school board meeting in Loudoun County of Northern Virginia showcased heightened tension in parents’ fight to have a say in local school policies. Two hundred fifty-nine people signed up to speak at the June 22 meeting, and hundreds rallied for hours outside the school administration building.
About one-and-a-half hours in, the school board members left after the audience cheered on a speaker. The board ended public comments and left the board room as the audience chanted “shame on you.” Some audience members stayed and made spontaneous speeches standing near their seats. The Superintendent of Loudoun County Public Schools (LCPS) declared the meeting an unlawful assembly and advised those that remained they would be subject to 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 the charge of disorderly conduct and resisting arrest. The school board resumed the meeting later and completed its agenda, according to LCPS public information officer Wayne Byard.
School Board Members Allegedly Targeted Parents in Private Facebook Groups
Fight for Schools, an organization representing some 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 CRT. Barts and the five other school board members allegedly infiltrated the private group. Barts didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
Kraig Troxell, the Public Information Officer for the Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office, told The Epoch Times on June 21, 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 from 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 she found out she was on the target list after calling for the school to re-open. After learning that some other parents were on the same list for speaking against CRT, she did some research and then joined them.
Is Equity Critical Race Theory?
On June 1, LCPS Interim Superintendent Scott Ziegler released an equity report. “CRT and the equity program are not the same things,” wrote Byard to The Epoch Times in an email, adding that Ziegler has repeatedly said that the LCPS does not include CRT in its curriculum.
Jeremy Wright, an LCPS teacher, disagrees. He said that the superintendent might be “parsing words.” In his view, the equity framework matches the central principles of CRT in many ways, including emphasizing that racism is systematic 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 okay 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 okay 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 okay with that.”
He said that he had attended the equity training three times: March 2020, fall 2020, and spring 2021. He and other teachers were told early in the activity that “cultural competence was eventually going to be part of our 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.”
Mike Gonzalez, a senior fellow at the Heritage Foundation, said that educators are steering away from the name “CRT” as more parents push back. He published a CRT checklist on June 21 to help people discern it by its principal traits. In his assessment, LCPS’ Comprehensive Equity Plan is a version of the CRT. And CRT is repackaged Marxism set 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 is subverting the will of parents, so you’re breaking down the family. The nuclear family is at risk,” she added that what’s happening in the LCPS is not unique.
Lawsuit Against Loudoun County’s Equity Plan
The next day after the LCPS superintendent released the Comprehensive Equity Plan, Patti Hidalgo Menders and company filed a lawsuit (pdf) against the school board regarding the Equity Ambassador Program outlined in the plan.
Daniel Suhr, the plaintiff’s lawyer 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.”
“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,” said Schultz.
Parents Demanding Accountability
As of June 21, Fight for Schools has gathered between 32 percent to 76 percent 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, the spokesperson for Fight for Schools, said the next immediate goal would be door-to-door efforts in the Leesburg school district, where Beth Barts is the school board member. The group has collected 75 percent of the signatures required, with 281 signatures to go.
“The key factor here is a school board that is not accountable to the parents, grandparents, and the taxpayers of Loudoun County,” said Prior, who added that the CRT is a “big brick” in the recall effort, but there are other bricks.
Before the meeting on June 22, a web 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 concerns that the school board meeting’s online sign-up sheet for speakers was opened a day earlier than usual. Wayde Byard, public information officer with the Loudoun County Public Schools (LCPS), 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 ten 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 time went on, more parents spoke against the LCPS policies, and their voices continued one after another until former state senator Dick Black, the final speaker around number 60.
“What we’re doing is we’re shining the light on what this board is doing. 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,” Black told The Epoch Times. “So anyway, I gave my speech. And when I gave the speech, everybody just went crazy. And the board retreated.”