For most of 2021, Loudoun County Public Schools has been in the news. While much of the coverage has focused on the debate about critical race theory or transgender policies, the story of Loudoun County is far bigger. It’s about how a pandemic led parents to open their eyes and witness a school system run by incompetent officials focused on pleasing special interests and refusing to give parents a seat at the table to help shape their children’s education.
The story began during the pandemic, when parents were balancing work and managing their children’s virtual learning. By June of 2020, parents started speaking out in favor of full-time, in-person schooling. These efforts had no effect; in July then-Superintendent Eric Williams declared that the beginning of the 2020-21 school year would be virtual. Frustrated parents started showing up to school board meetings in droves, begging for their children to be able to return to a productive learning environment.
In January of 2021, this led to the first of what are now many of Loudoun County School Board’s viral moments. One father stepped to the podium and delivered a passionate speech that lambasted the school board members for their failure to “figure it out” and get children back in school.
During this debate on opening schools, distance learning gave parents a peek behind the curtain of what their children were learning. Kindergarteners having access to videos promoting BLM protests. Second grader girls being told that women and minorities do not get credit for their work. Ninth graders being assigned sexually explicit books. High schoolers being told about their white privilege, white fragility, and that being colorblind to skin color is a microaggression. At the same time, teachers were being trained that light skinned people of color were privileged and that it is the duty of teachers, not parents, to “inculcate morals” in students and that parents must accept that.
Ultimately, the inflection point came this past spring. On March 4, 2021, due to deplorable social media behavior with constituents, one of the school board members – Beth Barts - was stripped of her committees and censured, the highest punishment the school board can levy on one of its members. The school board member then sent an email to an account entitled “School Board Confidential” in which she attacked parents she believed were responsible for her censure.
A mere eight days after that censure, that same school board member posted a call to action in a private Facebook group called “The Anti-Racist Parents of Loudoun County.” She expressed concern about parents opposition to critical race theory and demanded that her colleagues should be pushing back against their constituents. Responding to this post, one member sought volunteers to “infiltrate,” “expose,” and “hack” people’s websites for opposing critical race theory. A second member of the group responded to that post by creating a follow-up post to list parents by name, area of residence, and school board representative. From there, dozens of parents were listed for speaking at school board meetings in support of opening school, in opposition to critical race theory, and even standing up for students’ First Amendment rights.
But the membership in that group was not simply private citizens. It included six school board members, the Commonwealth Attorney for Loudoun County, and a member of the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors. All stood by and did nothing to stop this planned campaign against parents.
Making matters worse, the school board’s activities violated open meetings law, the Virginia and United States Constitutions, and its own by-laws. That is why several parents met on a back deck in March and decided to form a non-partisan political action committee to run an effort to remove these six school board members for neglect of duty, misuse of office, and incompetence in the performance of their duties.
Unbowed, the school board has doubled down in its contempt for the laws which govern its conduct. It created an anonymous bias reporting portal for students, which led to a federal lawsuit. It suffered a withering loss in court after putting a teacher on leave because he spoke up at a school board meeting against a proposed transgender policy. And it shut down public comment during another recent school board meeting because of applause. There is now evidence of a second private Facebook group with seven school board members discussing school closure policies to the exclusion of 99% of the community.
Now the media and teachers’ unions are saying that this is politically motivated. That it is some nefarious plan to win elections. That parents don’t want schools to teach accurate history.
They can keep spreading that false narrative. We’ll keep fighting for meritocracy and equal opportunity, while demanding that Loudoun County Public Schools focus its educational priorities on math, science, reading, and a reading of history that mirrors former President Barack Obama’s statement that we should not “elevate that which is wrong with America, over all that we know is right with America.”
Ian Prior is the Executive Director of Fight for Schools and Spokesman/Senior Counsel for Unsilenced Majority.