Loudoun County, an affluent suburb of Northern Virginia undergoing deep demographic changes, is at the center of what has become a national debate over Critical Race Theory (CRT). Experts note that the country of approximately 420,000 residents on the outskirts of Washington DC serves as a microcosm of what is occurring elsewhere around the country.
Born in the late 1970s and early 1980s, Critical Race Theory emerged out of a legal and academic framework that argues, in general terms, that a regime of white supremacy and its subordination of people of color in America has had an impact on society and its institutions. It is essentially an ever-evolving practice of questioning the role of race and racism in American society.
Although Loudoun County has become a focal point of this debate nationwide, interim superintendent Scott A. Ziegler has repeatedly denied that CRT is taught to students in the country, saying that there is a distinction between the racial equity work that began in Loudoun two years ago and promoting CRT in the school system.
In a June school board meeting, Loudoun County officials reviewed data for Northern Virginia's school system that showed a drastic demographic shift since 1995, when most of the students were predominantly white.
Over the last two decades, the population has not only increased in size, but seen a significant influx in families of color. Currently, the majority of the over 81,000 students in the district are Black, Hispanic or of Asian descent, while only 60% of the population is considered white.
In response to reports that racism has been a hindrance to the progress of Black and Hispanic students, Loudoun County Public Schools (LCPS) published a document last year entitled "Plan to Combat Systemic Racism", which called on teachers to participate in a professional learning series to "develop racial literacy and raise racial consciousness".
The document also revised the student dress code to prohibit the wearing of any images or symbols that represent racist or hateful ideology, among other measures.
These actions spurred a strong reaction from some parents, especially within conservative groups, who assert the school district is imposing CRT unto its students and making them "feel racist for being white."
Some went as far as to file lawsuits against various equity school programmes, arguing that they violate the First Amendment right to freedom of speech and the 14th Amendment's equal protection clause.
In an exclusive interview with LPO, Koran Saines, the Vice Chair of the Board of Supervisors for Loudoun Country, reiterated that CRT is not taught in Loudoun and is not included in its teaching programs.
Additionally, Saines said that the county is focused on ensuring that equity, diversity and unconscious bias are included in the curriculum, particularly as Loudoun is one of the most rapidly diversifying districts in Virginia.
"Hopefully, people will stop and educate themselves. Good values and equal treatment are being taught in Loudoun, not CRT," he said, adding that he does not believe any of the lawsuits - including one that seeks to recall certain school members - will succeed.
In recent months, Republican-led legislatures have introduced bills to ban critical race theory from US classrooms. Six states - Idaho, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, Iowa and New Hampshire - have passed legislation to ban the discussions or training that suggests that white people are inherently racist, as well as any discussions about conscious and unconscious bias, privilege, discrimination and oppression.
Of those states, only Idaho's bill explicitly mentions Critical Race Theory. Teachers across the nation fear that they will have to censor themselves when discussing topics of gender and race in the classroom.
Saines believes that Republican-leaning states are rallying behind the issue as part of a political strategy ahead of next year's mid-term election.
In September 2020, former President Donald Trump signed an executive order that expanded a ban on racial sensitivity training to federal contractors. Trump promoted "patriotic education" and denounced students learning about systemic racism. Although President Biden rescinded the order, the heated debate on CRT feeds into the GOP's discourse.
Virginia and Loudoun Country serve as an example of how demographic changes are flipping traditionally â€˜red' Republican states into blue, Democratic states. In 2008, Virginia voted for Barack Obama after 44 years of voting for Republican presidential candidates - a trend that has continued ever since.
Republicans, for their part, are eager to take control of the House of Representatives next year and only need to flip five seats currently held by Democrats to secure a majority. The GOP knows that their political success depends on motivating their base by adopting a hardline stance on issues like CRT.
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