Conservative groups protest Virginia school district over subject it's not even teaching

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Loudoun County schools have enacted a plan to combat racism, which conservatives appear to have misidentified as 'critical race theory.'

At a meeting of the Loudoun County, Virginia, school board on Tuesday night, right-wing groups gathered to protest against teaching "critical race theory." Organizers held signs complaining that students were being taught to hate one another, as speakers took turns at a microphone, suggesting the Declaration of Independence was at risk of being lost and that "progressives" were "trying to take away natural rights."

The school board itself has made clear that "critical race theory" is not being taught in the district's schools. But that didn't stop the protesters who were adamant that supposedly dangerous concepts were making their way into the curriculum.

In recent weeks, the Loudoun County school district has become the focus of national attention. Conservative media outlet Fox News has repeatedly amplified objections to the purported teaching of critical race theory there.

The right-wing group Stand Up Virginia organized a protest outside the meeting on Wednesday night, alongside similarly minded groups like Parents Against Critical Theory and The Virginia Federation Republican Women, telling supporters to "stand up to the Loudoun County School Board," alleging that "indoctrination" was taking place.

Brenda Tillett, the head of Stand Up Virginia, spoke outside the venue.

"For the past year we've seen a complete dismantling of our freedoms," Tillett claimed as she held up a sign that said, "We The Parents Stand Up!"

Tillett is also the head of another group, Bolster the Blue, which seeks to downplay police shootings of Black people and other nonwhite groups. On its website, Bolster the Blue promotes the work of William J. Lewinski and his company, Force Science Institute. The institute has been criticized by experts for producing "invalid and unreliable" studies in defense of police shootings of suspects.

During the school board meeting on Wednesday, proceedings appeared to be interrupted by protest, and PBS Newshour reporter Amna Nawaz, who was in the room at the time, tweeted, "Couldn’t even get through the first 30 minutes of comments without crowd yelling, interrupting, clapping, some boos."

Some of the parents speaking echoed the message of the right-wing groups, asserting that schools are "training our children to be social justice warriors" and to "hate our country."

But schools in the district are not teaching "critical race theory," an academic topic educating learners about systemic racism. Officials have sought to remind parents of that fact in recent weeks.

"The short answer is that we are not teaching critical race theory to our students," Scott Ziegler, the superintendent of Loudoun County Schools, said at a meeting of the board on June 1.

Ziegler noted in those comments that critical race theory is "a subject for academics," and not children at the K-12 level.

He said the county had enacted a "Plan to Combat Systemic Racism" after reports indicated that racism was negatively affecting Black and Latino students in its public schools. For example, in a 2019 incident at a Loudoun County elementary school, a Black student was chosen in class to play the role of a slave during a lesson on the Underground Railroad.

Conservatives and Republicans have in the past few months been promoting the claim that "critical race theory" is being foisted upon children and the country at large, suggesting without proof that the theory teaches anti-white racism and inaccurately categorizing with it any initiatives designed to advance racial equity.

Experts have noted that the campaign appears largely intended to motivate conservative voters to support Republicans in elections.

"Critical race theory disrupts the racial social hierarchy. And those who benefit from this hierarchy are fighting to preserve it," Widener University Delaware Law professor I. India Thusi told the American Independent in an email back in May.

The push to ban critical race theory goes months back to Donald Trump himself. In September, shortly before the presidential election, Trump issued an executive order prohibiting federal contractors and agencies from using "divisive concepts" about systemic racism and white supremacy in their training.

At a debate against then-Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden days later, he attempted to justify the move, insisting falsely, "They were teaching people that our country is a horrible place, it’s a racist place. And they were teaching people to hate our country."

To that claim, Biden responded simply, "Nobody's doing that. ...There is racial insensitivity. People have to be made aware of what other people feel like, what insults them, what is demeaning to them. It's important people know."

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.