Why one Virginia school district is the tip of the spear in the nationwide fight over critical race theory
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June 24, 2021 (The American Mind) – Loudoun County, Virginia, a well-to-do DC bedroom community, typifies suburban America’s leftward lurch. The 400,000-odd person county voted Republican over Democrat by a two-to-one margin throughout the latter half of the twentieth century, but a rapid growth in immigrants and progressive whites moving to the area to work “new economy” jobs at companies like Amazon and Verizon has transformed local voting habits. As Loudoun’s population quadrupled over the last three decades — with its foreign-born population more than doubling from 2000 to 2019 — its political culture has swung from reliably conservative to overwhelmingly progressive. In both 2000 and 2004, Loudouners went for George W. Bush by more than 55 percent; in 2020, they backed Joe Biden over Donald Trump by upwards of 25 points.
Consequently, the current high-profile fight over critical race theory (CRT) in the county’s public school system is the culmination of a decade or more of simmering tensions between the old Loudoun County and its newer, more invasive counterpart. The old Loudoun, made up of predominantly white, traditionally Republican-voting small business owners and defense contractors, is the locus of the resistance to centering the racialist ideology in their children’s curricula. The ascendant new Loudoun County generally supports entrenched interests behind the “equity” initiatives that provoked the controversy: powerful teacher’s union bosses, woke school board representatives, legacy social justice groups like the NAACP, and so on. What began with a series of explosive parent-teacher confrontations between the old Loudoun and the new Loudoun has given rise to one of the most prolonged and bitter battles over CRT to date.
The tensions over CRT in the community date back to 2019, when the local school board hired an organization called the Equity Collaborative to conduct a “systemic equity assessment” of the Loudoun County Public School (LCPS) system. On its face, this assessment seemed innocuous. Its central prescriptions, such as the recommendation that the school “establish a culturally-responsive framework to inform curricular and instructional efforts across the division,” were too buried in bureaucratic language to sound threatening to most lay readers.
But the school board’s subsequent reform agenda, released in September 2020 as a response to the critiques made in the Equity Collaborative report, promised an overhaul of everything from the LCPS curriculum and faculty training programs to its student discipline practices and admissions policy. The school, trumpeting its commitment to building “a racially conscious, identity-affirming and culturally responsive learning space for every student and employee,” set about implementing radical new policies without input from parents.
Many of the changes were smaller, symbolic efforts, such as discarding the name of the LCPS mascot, the Raiders, due to its apparent ties to the Confederacy, or releasing an official apology for being one of the last school districts in the country to desegregate. But there were also more radical initiatives; an anonymous “bias reporting system,” for example, institutionalized a speech-policing program wherein students were actively encouraged to report one another to administrators for perceived instances of microaggressions or bias. This system was accompanied by a “student equity ambassador program” that anointed a few select students — initially limited only to nonwhites, and later expanded to include purported “allies” who shared a “commitment to social justice” — to “be a voice for social justice” and “amplify the student voices of color and represent peers” by meeting with administrators to discuss the instances of ostensibly bigoted behavior reported by their peers.
In addition to these programs, LCPS also instituted a new “equity” curriculum that dedicated $500,000 to new programs dedicated to “interrupting the status quo for the development of stronger equitable practices.” This new curriculum carried all of the trappings of critical race and gender theory, despite fervent denials that CRT was being taught in the classroom from the district’s superintendent; in its own words, the entire initiative was intended to “engage in the disruption and dismantling of white supremacy [and] systemic racism.” Parents began to ask questions. “We were just like, ‘I can’t believe they’re teaching our kids this,’” says Patti Hidalgo Menders, a Loudoun County parent who is the lead plaintiff on a lawsuit that was filed against the school board last week. “We started to voice our concerns.”
Initially, “the school board just kind of dismissed us,” Menders says. But as parents became more insistent that their concerns be addressed, a bombshell revelation dropped: According to a March 2021 Daily Wire story, a Facebook group called “Anti-Racist Parents of Loudoun County” had been assembling a list of the parents voicing opposition to the equity programs, the better to “combat anti-CRT activities” by infiltrating anti-CRT groups, hacking their websites and social media, and “expos[ing] these people publicly.” At least three members of the school board—as well as the county prosecutor, the head of the local branch of the NAACP, and a number of other notable community leaders—were in the group. Many of Menders’ friends were too. “They were posting pictures of me, and one lady that was a friend of mine from my son’s football team called me disgusting,” she says. “I had known her for 10 years.”
It was clear that the Loudoun school system — like others across the country — was ideologically compromised. This was not entirely new information, given the history of woke initiatives at LCPS, but the extremism of the Facebook group broke new ground, representing an unprecedented boldness and unabashed radicalism on the part of the school administrators. In response, Menders and the other parents started a campaign to recall members of the Loudoun County School Board, and enlisted the help of the conservative Liberty Justice Center to file a lawsuit against the board for the alleged unconstitutionality of the bias reporting and equity ambassador programs.
The parents in Loudoun County are in the midst of a fight that has made Loudoun a flash point for the nationwide debate over CRT. Newly formed activist groups like Fight For Our Schools PAC and Parents Against Critical Race Theory have flocked to the parents’ side, while a slew of local elected officials, powerful nonprofits, and an increasingly woke legacy media infrastructure have arrayed against them, placing Loudoun at the tip of the spear in a growing grassroots resistance to CRT across the country. “This case is really going to be one of the first we’ll take, but it won’t be the last,” says Daniel Suhr, a Liberty Justice Center attorney leading the lawsuit against the Loudoun County School Board. “Our hope is that we have an opportunity to really set a good precedent, and to be able to draw the line here to show not just Loudoun but any of the other districts that are thinking about these things that this is just a bad path to go down.”
On a more fundamental level, the clash between the two Loudoun Counties is a clash between two Americas — or at least, two visions of America: one traditionalist, patriotic, and broadly committed to the Founding conception of equality and free speech, the other woke, bureaucratic, and revolutionary, intent on a long march through the institutions to supplant the old constitutional order of equality before the law with a new regime founded on equity and group rights.
The latter, which is responsible for the introduction of a CRT-based curriculum in school districts like Loudoun, is “fundamentally incompatible with the Constitution,” says Suhr. “Baked into the framework of CRT is this idea that only one viewpoint on race is acceptable, and any other viewpoint has to be suppressed. The Constitution also guarantees us equality before the law, and this ideology’s fundamental framework is discriminating between people—between children—and deciding the opportunities that they receive based on race.”
CRT’s threat to these constitutional principles is clearly visible in Loudoun County. The Equity Collaborative assessment that originally produced the CRT-based reforms castigated the school district’s teachers for “tend[ing] to sidestep differences in the students and families they serve and resolv[ing] to treat all people ‘the same.’” In short, the report argued, LCPS treated students too equally — its antiquated colorblind attitudes and problematic commitment to “treating all people the same” was at odds with the new, race-conscious doctrine of equity.
This new ideology is often masked in layers of bureaucratic language, but it is insidious nonetheless, and is responsible for the sharp rise in a particularly ugly kind of anti-Americanism throughout the country. Now, those insidious ideas are “seeping into our schools,” says Suhr. “Without a lot of parental knowledge or involvement, they’re being crammed down our kids’ throats, even though they are radical and divisive ideas that are incompatible with a lot of fundamental American values.”
As Loudoun goes, so goes the nation; in an important sense, the northern Virginia school district is a proxy for a developing regime-level struggle over education throughout the country. In Loudoun and elsewhere, the normal Americans pushing back on these ideas are run-of-the-mill working- and middle-class mothers and fathers, motivated by a simple, powerful patriotism: a love of their country, its history, its traditions and its people. This is the patriotic love that the credentialed progenitors of “anti-racism” and “equity” endeavor to “dismantle” and “deconstruct” — ultimately, to abolish.
Published with permission from The American Mind.