Even before he was elected, Virginia Gov. [Glenn] Youngkin focused his attention on harmful, fabricated fibs about public education. He allied with far right activists to push regressive policies, particularly those that would strip funding, respect, equity, and stability from public schools in an ongoing attempt to privatize the funding of public education while decimating our public schools. Thankfully, many of the bills that targeted those goals were stopped by the Virginia Senate during the 2023 General Assembly before they could become law.
Youngkin’s 2021 Gubernatorial win is attributed to his successful use of culture wars, fake narratives, and manufactured outrage over claims that parents were being denied their rights, despite a wealth of evidence to the contrary. He continues to employ this strategy to influence the upcoming election in November, when all seats in the Virginia General Assembly are up for election, despite being informed that many of his claims are unfounded.
For example, Governor Youngkin claimed that student performance on the nation’s report card (National Assessment of Education Progress) was “catastrophic,” and that Virginia’s students are doing worse than their peers in other states. The truth is that Virginia students performed as well or better than students nationwide on the [NAEP], and Virginia’s public schools are rated fourth out of all the states, based on reviews by both Forbes and the World Population Review. The Governor seems impervious to suggestions he stop making those claims, probably because he sees a political advantage to disinformation being shared. Nevertheless, he was told his claims are based on a flawed analysis of student test scores and are patently false.
Northern Virginia is in Youngkin’s crosshairs for attacks because that part of the state tends to reject the validity of Youngkin’s culture war issues, just as they rejected him in his gubernatorial election. Most residents view public education as a cornerstone of democracy and support the tenant of the One Fairfax policy that all residents deserve an equitable opportunity to succeed. It is the region’s resistance to Youngkin’s fomenting of outrage over manufactured crises, efforts to undermine public education, and his targeting of the most vulnerable students that attracts the governor’s ire.
Recently, The Youngkin administration targeted public school systems in Northern Virginia with three investigations, with threats of even more. The first investigation started the day Attorney General [Jason] Mijares took office, when he commissioned a grand jury to investigate the handling of a student sexual assault in the Loudoun County Public School system. Although the grand jury recommended no charges against the school system and found significant issues with the sheriff’s investigation related to the assault, the grand jury report was used by the Youngkin administration to make unrelated charges.
In January 2023, Miyares initiated another investigation at the Governor’s request, involving a delay of National Merit Commended Certificates at Fairfax High Schools. He questioned whether the certificates were purposefully withheld from Asian American students, based on numerous allegations from a single reporter who had openly admitted her involvement in Yougnkin’s 2021 election success. However, the courts rejected Miyares’ request for a subpoena for the school board records in that case. The claims of civil rights violations is particularly ironic because Miyares decimated the Office of Civil Rights, yet is using that office and the Virginia Human Rights Administration to pursue these expensive, misguided investigations.
Miyares is investigating whether the revised admissions policy at TJ discriminates against Asian students, even though the Supreme Court is currently deciding whether to take up the issue.
Currently, there is a struggle between Northern Virginia public school boards and the Youngkin administration over the revised model policies for transgender students. Northern Virginia counties were the first to refuse to adopt the revised policy because it rolled back existing protections for transgender students, which were in compliance with anti-discrimination laws. Miyares insisted those school boards were required to follow the new policy for transgender students, and that their refusal was a willful violation of state policy. Some suggested that a showdown between the governor and FCPS was coming, and Miyares suggested that parents can and should take legal action against school districts that defy the governor’s policy, and that his office “will be monitoring all litigation and will be prepared to participate if appropriate.”
Such strong-armed tactics worked in Virginia Beach. Although they initially resisted the governor’s revised policy, when faced with litigation the Virginia Beach School Board revised their policy to fall in line with the governor’s model policy. Legal experts say the model policies are for guidance only. Fairfax County hasn’t changed from their original rejection of the new policy, and there is no indication they will change. Dr. Michelle Reid, Superintendent of Fairfax County Public Schools, responded that the district is within the law by rejecting the policy, and that the FCPS system is in compliance with FCPS Regulation 2603, federal law, and anti-discrimination policies.
Recently, Youngkin made an unhinged claim that the Fairfax County Public School system has a “maniacal focus on equal outcomes,” consistent with his anti-woke campaign that successfully elected him in 2021. Does he feel that fomenting outrage over manufactured crises will give him a political advantage? It worked for him in 2021, and soon we will know if it works for him in the critical election in November, when all legislative and many school board seats are up for election.
Authors’ bios: Marianne K. Burke, Ph.D. is a co-founder and board member of 4 Public Education, Chair of the Education Working Group for the Virginia Grassroots Coalition, and leader of Fairfax Indivisible. Vanessa Hall is a co-founder of and blogger for 4 Public Education, and known for her “Fake Grassroots, Real Dark Money” webinar. Otherwise, she is a trusted volunteer in school, scouts, and church; and the mom of two amazing students in Fairfax County schools.
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