Teachers Break Down How Virginia Became The Ground Zero In The Education Culture War
- Education has become the forefront issue in the gubernatorial race between Republican Glenn Youngkin and Democrat Terry McAuliffe with Virginia taking center stage in the culture war erupting in school board rooms across the country.
- Issues regarding Critical Race Theory (CRT), gender ideology, vaccine mandates, mask requirements, school reopenings and virtual learning signify why education has become such a salient issue ahead of election day, Virginia teachers told the Daily Caller News Foundation.
- “We want our kids to learn academics, but they need to leave it to the parents to determine their politics, to determine religion, to determine their morals, and when they allow families to do that and parents to do that, our society is stronger, we’re healthier, we’re happier, we’re more unified,” Jeremy Wright, a teacher at an alternative school in LCPS told the DCNF.
When a northern Virginia school board threatened to punish educators for speaking against equity initiatives, high school teacher Monica Gill could not stay silent.
“I thought my job was to present kids with different perspectives, give them tools to evaluate competing claims and think for themselves, but the division’s equity policy presents one position and is poised to silence others,” Gill said regarding the policy at a school board meeting in October of 2020. “I wonder now if I am supposed to be a teacher or an indoctrinator.”
Loudoun County Public Schools (LCPS) and Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) in particular have been at the center of the public protest and culture war debate erupting in American public schools across the country, but education has become a prominent issue in the Virginia gubernatorial race between Republican Glenn Youngkin and Democrat Terry McAuliffe.
Issues regarding Critical Race Theory (CRT), gender ideology, vaccine mandates, mask requirements, school reopenings and virtual learning are salient education issues at the forefront of debate ahead of election day, Virginia teachers told the Daily Caller News Foundation.
CRT holds that America is fundamentally racist, yet it teaches people to view every social interaction and person in terms of race. Its adherents pursue “antiracism” through the end of merit, objective truth and the adoption of race-based policies.
Virtual Learning Setbacks
Before the pandemic, teachers and parents didn’t see the politicization of the public education system, no one knew who was on their school board and nobody spoke at school board meetings, activist and teacher Lilit Vanetsyan told the Daily Caller News Foundation.
“We kind of just paid our taxes, went to work and expected the teachers to do their job to teach the curriculum,” Vanetsyan said. “But the last year has really been the silver lining, allowing parents to see what’s being taught to their kids. It’s stretched teachers, beyond their patience to either continue teaching what they’re just told to teach and stay in the dark or come out as a warrior and say, ‘I’m being told to do this, but I’m not okay with it. I’m going to voice myself so that others don’t feel alone.’”
Vanetsyan went viral for her speech during a LCPS school board meeting in June, where she warned parents to speak up for their kids or risk them “rooting for socialism by the time they get to middle school.” She formerly taught in FCPS, but decided to leave her job and now provides private instruction for families who have pulled their children out of public schools.
She said her students struggled with virtual learning, which led to a rise in failing grades.
All FCPS middle school and high school students saw an 83% increase in failing grades in two or more classes, according to data comparing the 2020-2021 school year to the 2019-2020 school year in FCPS’s “Study of Teaching and Learning During the COVID-19 Pandemic.”
Julie Perry, a teacher in FCPS who is running for the Virginia House of Delegates, said virtual classes were hard on her students as well. She said two years ago her students could read more advanced content and think more abstractly, but now the same work is much harder.
“I teach ninth grade world history and I unfortunately have had to water down my lesson plans because the impacts of virtual learning on these kids were so severe,” Perry said.
She said virtual learning “forced parents to pay attention to what their children are being taught” and discovered that all around the state of Virginia “there are a lot of teachers who were indoctrinating their students and teaching them stuff that’s very divisive to our country.”
Politicization Of The Classroom
CRT starts at the top and “trickles down from the Virginia Department of Education to each individual school district, aka the school board,” Vanetsyan said.
The curricula is often substituted with names like “social emotional learning” so “people who don’t know what they’re looking for don’t think that critical race theory is being taught in their school,” she said.
Education has been a political issue across the county over the past year, but LCPS has served as a blueprint for the rest of the country, because it “is where everything really became exposed,” Vanetsyan said. “If these issues can arise here, they can occur anywhere, we’ve seen in the past year.”
Perry said her teacher trainings are “all indoctrination” now as part of a divisive tactic being pushed in schools to influence the most vulnerable population, children.
“Things are not good in the schools, and this is something all over Virginia and the country,” Perry said. “What’s happened is the far left has taken over the schools and they are infiltrating them with their indoctrination.”
“The left says there’s no critical race theory being taught in Virginia, but there is,” Perry said. “They just use a different name.”
She said students at her school have a special period a couple of times a month dedicated to SEL, or social emotional learning, which the Committee for Children defines as “the process of developing the self-awareness, self-control and interpersonal skills that are vital for school, work, and life success,” but Perry said it is just another form of CRT to get “students to behave in a way that is not who they are.”
Motivation to implement controversial curricula and policies stems from money and politics, including the rape incidents and alleged cover up by LCPS leadership, Vanetsyan said.
The father of a sexual assault victim, Scott Smith, was arrested for “unlawful assembly” at a June 22 LCPS school board meeting when he tried to speak out against the passage of a district policy that allows students to use school bathrooms of the gender with which they identify. Smith’s ninth-grade daughter was sexually assaulted by a boy wearing a skirt who entered a girls’ bathroom at Stone Bridge High School in LCPS on May 28.
Under the policy, which was passed in August, teachers must also call students by their “chosen name and gender pronouns that reflect their gender identity without any substantiating evidence” and allows transgender students to participate in sports that correspond to their chosen gender identity.
Monica Gill is a Loudoun County High School teacher who is suing LCPS over the policy, along with two other teachers, Tanner Cross and Kim Wright. They argue the policy forces them “to violate their beliefs by requiring them to address students with their chosen pronouns rather than the ones consistent with their biological sex,” according to Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), the legal organization representing the teachers in court.
Gill said she first took notice of the direction LCPS was going in the summer of 2019, when the school system launched its initiative for equity, diversity and inclusion and teacher training that “was very ideologically centered on critical race theory, even though they continue to try to deny that that is what it was all about.”
“I refer to it often as trickle down ideology, trickle down indoctrination, that they are targeting the teachers in hopes that this will trickle down to the classroom,” Gill said. She began writing letters to district leaders and speaking out at school board meetings, but she felt like her concerns were largely ignored.
The proposed LCPS “Professional Conduct” policy that Gill spoke out against prohibited employee speech that is “not in alignment with the school division’s commitment to action-oriented equity practices.” The policy also said the district would not tolerate speech, including social media communication, interpreted “as undermining the views, positions, goals, policies or public statements of the Loudoun County School Board or its Superintendent” to “disrupt the operations or efficiency of LCPS.”
The school board eventually passed a watered down version of the policy in September that specifically mentioned “Protected Speech” and the First Amendment rights of employees.
She said she has personally seen the negative impact of the “trickle down indoctrination,” which “really has kids looking at each other now in terms of their skin color, looking at each other in terms of being oppressed or oppressor.”
“I have witnessed kids discriminating against each other, excluding one another,” Gill said. “For instance, I’ve heard kids say things like, ‘Well, you can’t be a part of this conversation because you’re white,’ which is absolutely heartbreaking. No child should be excluded because of their skin color. We’re seeing the relationships between kids intensify in a negative way, because of these policies.”
Gill said those who say CRT is not being taught in K-12 schools, are “really playing semantics,” with euphemisms because “equity really is critical race theory, inclusion really is their gender ideology.”
“Essentially, that is based entirely on categorizing each other as oppressed or oppressor based on our skin color, and is the complete antithesis of what I was taught when I was growing up, which is the Martin Luther King Jr. way: We look at one another based on the content of our character, not the color of our skin.”
“The goal eventually is to destroy the system” through the claim that the system is rigged against people of color, or any other marginalized population, said Jeremy Wright, a teacher at an alternative school in LCPS.
“When race becomes more of an issue, not less of an issue, we have more division,” Wright told the DCNF.
Teachers are also incentivized with money “to teach social activism in the classroom,” including equity and CRT principles, Wright said. When he was first trained to be a teacher, he was told to keep politics out of the classroom and equally present both sides of an argument when necessary, but now he says teachers are plugging their own politics in the classroom.
Teachers have been funding the teachers unions’ partisan interests under the guise of higher wages, smaller classrooms and equal pay, but the money is often given to “the Democrats who are essentially, at least in Virginia, in charge of passing the bill of policies,” Vanetsyan said.
“We have the first issue that we were presented with were the lockdowns,” Vanyetsan said. “The second issue that we were presented with was the curriculum, CRT. The third issue that we were presented with was the transgender policy.”
A state law enacted by the Virginia General Assembly and the Virginia Department of Education in 2020 directed local school board’s in the state to adopt policies that protect transgender students. The legislation directed school systems across the state to make “evidence-based best practices and include information, guidance, procedures, and standards” available for transgender students, which includes “enforcement of sex-based dress codes” and “student participation in sex-specific school activities and events and use of school facilities.”
Vanetsyan said the outcome are policies like LCPS’s Policy 8040 which passed in August and has been a highly debated and protested issue at LCPS school board meetings.
In 2016, when McAuliffe was last governor, he vetoed three bills, citing concerns that the legislation would undermine state support for public schools, the Daily Press reported.
The first bill, House Bill 518, would have allowed students to transfer from struggling schools to a different school in the same district. The second bill, House Bill 389, would have set up voucher-style accounts for parents of disabled students for private school or other education costs. The third bill, House Bill 8, would have created a new state board in charge of coordinating a full-time virtual school program available to up to 5,000 students annually.
McAuliffe also vetoed House Bill 2191, or the “Beloved Bill” that would have required school districts to warn parents about education materials containing “sexually explicit” content and required teachers to provide replacement instructional materials for any student whose parent requests an alternative.
The bill was brought to the state’s General Assembly by a FCPS mother who opposed her son reading the book in his high school class, which detailed sex, rape and bestiality, the Associated Press reported.
“The board determined that existing state policy regarding sensitive or controversial instructional material is sufficient and that additional action would be unnecessarily burdensome on the instructional process,” McAuliffe said in his 2017 veto statement from the bill.
“The final thing that we’ve been presented with which has been a slap in the face to anybody, Democrat, Republican, or moderate, is former Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe, saying that parents should not tell schools what to teach their kids,” Vanetsyan said.
Given McAuliffe’s history, if he is elected into office “we already know where he stands on education,” Vanyetsan said. “We already know that former Governor Terry McAuliffe is against school choice. We already know that Governor Terry McAuliffe is against parents being aware of the curriculum that is being taught in their child’s school. He’s against parent involvement.”
Deteriorating Trust In The Public School System
The school system has been in the news so extensively because, while it started out about school policies, “it became about what the reaction from our leaders was, in that they didn’t recognize anyone’s voice,” Wright said.
Wright recently pulled his own kids out of public schools and enrolled them in a private school, because he doesn’t trust his kids to the public education system anymore, despite being a public school teacher.
“We want our kids to learn academics, but they need to leave it to the parents to determine their politics, to determine religion, to determine their morals, and when they allow families to do that and parents to do that,” Wright said.
Parents have chosen education as their “hill to die on” because it involves their child’s future, safety and wellbeing and it has become the forefront issue in the Virginia gubernatorial race because it has “been very obvious that they want to take away parental rights,” Wright said.
The current pushback over policies, such as CRT, can be seen on a nationwide level and “when teachers and parents and students are reacting like this, this isn’t something that’s been needed or demanded. This is something that’s being pushed by the outside,” said Tyson Langhofer, senior counsel and director for the Center for Academic Freedom with ADF.
“I think that’s why you’re seeing this become such a big issue because the parents are realizing what we value as a community is not what’s being valued by the school board,” Langhofer added. “We feel like we’re not being listened to, and we’re the constituents. When we come and speak and say, ‘Hey, we don’t like this,’ we’re just being ignored.”
Teachers Afraid To Speak Out
Perry said starting next year, if things continue how they are, teachers across Virginia are going to be evaluated on an extra standard called “cultural relevant teaching,” which “is the exact same thing as critical race theory.”
“If you are a teacher that is probationary, which is your first three years of teaching, and you get one bad rating, they can fire you at the end of the year,” Perry said. “If you are a continuing contract teacher, which is four years or more, what they can do is put you on a performance improvement plan and do things to make your job pretty hard.”
She said these standards evaluate teachers on “teaching hate” that expects them “to tell one group of students ‘Hey, you need to check your privilege because of your race and your ethnicity’ and another group of students, ‘You’re a victim.’”
“The worst part about it all, is if the kids don’t align with this, you’re supposed to make them feel ashamed of themselves, make them feel guilty, and it’s just abusive,” she added. “That is very alarming to parents.”
Other teachers feel the same way she does about what is going on in Virginia’s education system, but “they’re terrified to even speak.” She said legislation passed by the Virginia General Assembly these past two years allows schools to implement “cultural relevant teaching” and “equity standards,” that puts teachers in a position where they can’t speak out for fear of losing their jobs.
LCPS has a “cultural competence requirement,” similar to FCPS, in its teacher evaluations, which can “start the firing process” if they don’t agree with the school’s “philosophy,” Wright said.
“They’re basically trying to convince people to go into social activism and get their students involved in social activism,” Wright said, which has mobilized strong opinions on both sides.
Those who don’t agree are afraid to speak out for fear they will lose their jobs, “but they also are afraid of the teachers union not helping them even though they’re supposed to,” Vanetsyan said. “They’re afraid of being ostracized and having no support.”
“Other teachers that are very vocal on the other side of the issue use intimidation tactics and manipulation… to try to keep (opposing) voices suppressed,” Wright said.
While some teachers are completely on board with the political initiatives of the school boards, Gill said she is not alone “in thinking that the things that are happening in schools are not right and that this is not the way to do education.”
“There are plenty of teachers who think that this is going in the wrong direction,” Gill said. “Unfortunately, they are very afraid to stand up and say anything about it.”
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