For a year, Loudoun’s School Board meeting room has been a battleground for parents pushing for students to return to the classroom, as division leaders were paralyzed by often conflicting guidance provided by local administrators and state and federal authorities.
Just as schools appear to be on a road to a full return, a new fight has erupted, with some of those same parents remaining on the frontlines—and perhaps in the crosshairs of they are criticizing.
The publication last week of a report by conservative news site The Daily Wire detailed the efforts by participants in a closed Facebook group, including six School Board members and other local elected representatives and educators among its 624 members, to identify and take action against critics of the school closures and the division’s equity initiatives. The article detailed allegations that members of the “Anti-Racist Parents of Loudoun County” groupcollected and disseminated critics’ personal information and considered hacking into their websites, resulting in requests to the Sheriff’s Office to determine whether criminal conduct occurred.
The controversy put a new spotlight on the school division’s efforts to address allegations of discrimination and its implementation of new equity awareness training that highlights concepts of white privilege and systemic racism. The school division launched the anti-racism initiative two years ago in response to mounting examples of racially insensitive instruction, instances of racism among students or staff members, a disproportionately low number of Black and Latinx student gaining admission to the division’s STEM academies, and a Virginia Attorney General’s Office investigation into allegations of systemic racism in the division, which earlier this year resulted in a formal agreement mandating corrective actions.
Interim Superintendent Scott A. Ziegler on March 19 issued a statement to refute claims that the division was instituting controversial critical race theory curriculum and “to clarify many of the misperceptions being reported by certain media outlets and social media.”
“In explaining LCPS’ equity priorities, it might be helpful to state what they are not. They are not an effort to indoctrinate students and staff into a particular philosophy or theory. What they are is an effort to provide a welcoming, inclusive, affirming environment for all students,” he wrote.
“LCPS’ work on equity is a journey that requires the commitment of staff at all levels. I feel the staffs’ work, which has been sustained, honest and undertaken in good faith, has been misrepresented recently by some members of the public,” he wrote.
However, for the second consecutive board meeting, a teacher addressed raised concerns to the board about the equity training the staff is required to complete.
“You are about to experience a mass exodus of teachers and staff here in Loudoun County. It has already started, and I hope you pay attention to the numbers,” Jeremy Wright said. “CRT is divisive. There are racial comments that are made during these trainings and when this happens, it opens you up to litigation.”
“Minority students are going to suffer the most from this. When you teach students that the system is against them, they have no motivation to learn. They are not going to try to work. They are not going to try to improve themselves,” he said.
Ziegler’s statement also addressed the allegation that school employees were engaged in the punishing of critics. “LCPS recognizes the right of its employees to free speech, but does not condone anyone targeting members of the community for their viewpoint.”
The reported activity of the Facebook group spurred new calls for School Board members to be removed from office.
Beth Barts (Leesburg) was the only School Board member identified as being actively involved with the group. She already has been censured by the board and removed from all committee assignments for online postings deemed to violate the board’s conduct policies. A group of parents previously announced plans to mount a formal recall campaign seeking her removal.
On Tuesday, a new group, Loudoun Parents for Education, announced plans to petition for the recall not just of Barts, but also the other five board members identified as being members of the Facebook group—School Board Chairwoman Brenda Sheridan (Sterling), Vice Chairwoman Atoosa Reeser (Algonkian), Leslee King (Broad Run), Denise Corbo (At Large), and Ian Serotkin (Blue Ridge).
Spokesman Ian Prior said the board has spent much of its time since the 2019 elections focused on divisive actions and has strayed from its core educational duties.
“In 2019 when the elections for Loudoun County School Board were held, the pandemic and curriculum issues that are dividing this community were not a major point of discussion, but they clearly have become so,” he said. “Further, six of the nine school board members were part of a private Facebook group where members were conspiring to commit potentially illegal actions against members of the community for exercising their First Amendment rights to speak out against the curriculum and for opening schools.”
During Tuesday night’s School Board meetings, several individuals who found their names on the group’s list of critics spoke out.
“I was personally attacked. My name, my first name, my last name, where my son goes to school, who my husband is, where I live and three pictures of me were all on that Facebook page,” Patti Menders said. “They wanted to send postcards to our neighbors calling us racist and come to our home with a megaphone and call us racists. And Beth Barts, you incited this mob. I blame you for these people, including teachers, to come after us because we have different opposing views.”
“At what point did our School Board members go from serving residents to targeting them?” asked Cheryl Onderchain, who said she now worried about having rocks thrown through her windows and having her children targeted at school.
“A list like this puts a target on me. It puts a target on my family and 40 other families. Think of what a zealot could do with this list,” Austin Levine said.
The School Board met in closed session at the end of Tuesday’s meeting to discuss topics that included the consideration of the performance and disciplining of a board member. No action was taken after the session concluded.