CHARLOTTESVILLE, Virginia — Randy Zackrisson, a veteran of the Ohio Air National Guard and long-time Albemarle County resident, announced Wednesday his write-in candidacy to unseat current Albemarle County Public School (ACPS) Board Chairman Graham Paige.
Zackrisson sat down with Breitbart News for his first exclusive interview shortly after his announcement speech on the steps of the Albemarle County Office Building to detail his vision for school board policy reform and map out what will be a short, yet eventful road to the Old Dominion’s November 2021 general election.
“I think parents have the right to raise their children, not only the right, the responsibility is the parent by law. It’s the parents’ job to raise the kids, not the school,” Zackrisson said, detailing the fundamental message of his campaign: parents’ rights.
“[The School Board] just didn’t seem to really care about … any opinion other than what they’ve already made up their mind that they’re going to,” he said, detailing his own attempts to coax answers out of school board members. “They’re going to move their policies forward. And so why am I running? I want to get parents back to have a voice.”
His opponent, Paige, who represents the Samuel Miller Magisterial District, has been dismissive of citizens’ concerns.
In following portion correspondence with a community member, which Breitbart News detailed, “Paige appeared to become extremely defensive”:
In response to your June 27 email, let me try to be clearer.
Speaking for the School Board, which unanimously adopted the anti-racism policy and in fact directed that the policy be drafted, our Board is not interested in the revocation of our anti-racism policy, which first was proposed more than three years ago and was the subject of multiple public meetings. Period. [Emphasis added].
I could devote several paragraphs to expressing to you why this policy is so fundamental to our responsibilities to provide a safe and nurturing environment for all students and staff and to why it is so vital to meeting our obligations to provide all of our students with equal opportunity to fulfill their highest potential, but I suspect this would be of little interest to you. [Emphasis added].
If in fact you believe there is a need to improve the policy to strengthen its effectiveness, I direct you to the office of our counsel.
To many concerned citizens, whom Zackrisson said asked him to run for the school board seat, the problems with the school board go deeper. Indeed, as Breitbart News also reported, Albemarle County students are struggling with the implementation of a Critical Race Theory (CRT) indoctrination scheme and a transgender policy that allows boys to change in girls’ locker rooms and play against them in sports.
For Virginians, concerns about the aforementioned policies came initially from Loudoun County, as their school board made headlines with an apparent witch hunt of parents and teachers opposed to the policies, culminating partly in the firing of a teacher and heated, in-person school board meetings. Zackrisson was no different.
“Maybe it’s the Loudoun County stuff. … I think that’s how I started to get involved,” he told Breitbart News. “I just wanted to learn about what they are teaching. … And I think parents wanted to get their voice heard, but they were shut out. And, matter of fact, I think that the school board has pretty much made up their mind with the directions they want to go, and I don’t think they really cared that much about any more input.”
When asked about Joseph T. Henley Middle School’s “pilot program” for CRT that Breitbart News first exposed, Zackrisson responded explaining, “Well, actually, the whole narrative that this is a pilot is disingenuous. I learned this when I started attending school board meetings and I learned that there was a ‘sixth annual equity conference’ given for teachers there. This has been going on, behind the scenes, unbeknown to parents, for at least six years. Maybe longer. So this new pilot they just rolled out, they’ve been working on this for years. … I guess that was their public rollout because I think the cat was out of the bag.” (Emphasis added).
“Some of the policies that they’ve come down with are very, very intrusive, from a parent’s point of view. And, again, they’re mandatory. They’re not only applied to the students, but they apply to the teachers. Not all the teachers even agree. But, you know, they’re being being forced to comply with with the right thinking.” (Emphasis added).
Breitbart News in June sat down with former Henley Middle School teacher Dan Ferraro, who detailed his ouster for “sharing the County’s ‘radical ideas’ on Critical Race Theory with parents.”
When asked about the more intrusive policies he saw the school board enforcing, he said, referencing CRT, that “the basis of it is to try to get into the issues of culture with kids at that young age. … Cultural issues, framed in a way that may not represent the family values of the students and their parents. … [Children] are trying to figure out who they are as people, let alone worrying about cultural issues.”
“The other thing that is disconcerting to me is they don’t give a balanced view of history,” he continued. “The United States isn’t a perfect country and never intended to be: it’s to form a more perfect union, not be a perfect union. We have made our mistakes and we’ve tried to correct those … and we’ve made some good strides in correcting the past inequities. But those things need to be talked about, just as well as the sins. Talk about the repentance; we passed three or four Constitutional amendments to try to correct it.”
“When I first got involved in this, that was one of my first missions is try to untangle the word salad of what they’re talking about,” Zackrisson said, such as critical race theorists’ usage of words like “equity” instead of equality, “culturally responsive teaching,” and “anti-racist,” among others. (Emphasis added).
“And they’ve got a lot of words,” he continued. “And Socrates said, ‘the beginning of knowledge starts with a definition [of] the term.’ I just wanted to hear the terms. I asked those questions. I didn’t get good answers. I didn’t get any answers. So these words mean something different to the school board than they mean to me, and to you, and Webster, by the way. To me, it seems like ‘equity’ is a philosophy.”
“But it doesn’t really matter what [what the philosophy is]. When I think, it’s the parents, the voices … it’s how the parents view these programs. And I firmly believe that.”
He continued to say that one of the main reasons there has been a nationwide movement at the school board level is because there are “just so many radical policies. Radical policies that don’t coincide with what some of our family values and parental values are. … But, you know, it’s bigger than that. … There’s, I think, 22 states that have made the teaching of [Critical Race Theory] illegal, or considering it, or are working on bills … There’s nine counties in Virginia that have said they’re not going to follow the guidance in these controversial areas. So, it begs the question: if there’s 22 states and nine counties that are objecting that, you know, there’s probably something there. There’s probably something that should be explored and discussed and not just slammed through. I mean, we’re not a unique county, Loudoun has gotten a lot of attention. And I think we’ll get a lot of attention as well.”
“What about the little girl that is not going to get her scholarship because somebody else took her slot in a sports program?” he asked, referring to the county’s new transgender policy that allows boys to compete against girls in school sports. “I mean, are her rights less important than somebody else’s rights? Those are hard questions.”
“It was kind of disheartening to me last week when they just passed the transgender bill,” Zackrisson expressed. “They said, ‘Yeah, we’re going to review how it’s doing, but it comes up for review in seven years.’ Seven years? Really? You’re gonna wait for seven years just to review whether the policy is working the way it’s supposed to work? To what standard? I don’t know. So that’s a challenge.”
“One thing I do notice is, if the school leadership wants to make a policy, they always seem to come out with these ‘experts studies’ to validate that whatever direction they want to do,” he said (Emphasis added).
“I think there’s a lot of studies out there that can show almost anything,” he continued. “I’d like to put a little balance on which studies they’re looking at, because I’ve read some studies that are diametrically opposed to some of their studies. … I’m an engineer. I’m a data guy. And my philosophy in anything, as I deal with corporate clients and government clients, is any problem that is properly measured can be improved. I don’t know that we’re properly measuring some of these issues. I don’t know that we’re actually defining them. I’m not sure what problem we’re clearly solving with some of these policies. … So, define the terms — so we all know what we’re talking about — and let’s define the problem. And then let’s put metrics in and see what we’re doing.”
Zackrisson has lived in Albemarle County for 40 years. He and Julie, his wife of 48 years, saw all four of their children graduate from the ACPS system and currently have two grandchildren attending ACPS schools. When their children were in school, however, the school board was much more inclusive of parents, he asserted.
“The schools were very open to parent input,” he told Breitbart News. “They would hold separate meetings with parents … anybody who wanted to attend, could attend; they weren’t hand-selected parents, that would give them the outcome that they were looking for, like today. Back then, they actually sincerely wanted input, and they just did policy accordingly. They were very, very open and responsive to the public, to the parents, and today you’re limited to a time slot on Zoom.”
While many school boards in Virginia have returned to in-person meetings, Albemarle County has continued to use Zoom.
When asked if he thought the school board was hiding behind Zoom so as to subvert any chance at a public spectacle like the ones seen in Loudoun County, Zackrisson responded, “I think that’s part of it. … I mean, I can’t say all of it, but part of it is it’s certainly easier to hide behind Zoom. This last board meeting … I was lucky enough to get my two minutes of free speech, and I brought that point up. … I guess if you can — if you don’t want to do something — you can always find a reason for not doing it.”
On top of being a barrier to meaningful public participation, Zackrisson is also acutely aware of the heavy costs the coronavirus pandemic has extracted from children. In his announcement speech, he noted that “Over the past 18 months, these major disruptions — coupled with the mismanagement of our children’s education — has been disastrous,” saying of the school board’s response, instead of trying to “recover thousands of lost educational hours … their priorities are focused instead on renaming schools and compelling ‘equity’ policies.”
Despite this, Zackrisson did see a possible silver lining of all the educational chaos caused by coronavirus, saying “parents tuned in for the first time and saw what was actually being taught in the schools. … And then the parents are going ‘Really? This is what you’re teaching my children?'”
“It’s a $200 million budget, and it comes down to about $14 thousand a year per student,” he also noted. “With that kind of money, our students ought to have excellent educations. That’s not happening today.”
Shifting gears, Zackrisson spoke about the importance of school boards in the community.
“School boards have a lot of power,” he said, explaining that it is not simply a matter of having to do what the state government mandates. “No, that’s why we have school boards: So that so that the local values are incorporated in the schools. Otherwise, why not just have it all controlled out of Washington and have one big, one-size-fits-all policy? School boards have a lot of power; they certainly have power of the purse, they control where the money is spent, they look at the budget every year, and they can set priorities by where they fund priorities. And so the school boards are administrative in many respects, but they’re also the only input that the public has, to what the teachers are teaching their children.”
Zackrisson said that board members have the obligation to “be challenging and asking questions of the supervisor, not just rubber stamping. … If you look at the [Critical Race Theory and transgender policies], they were passed unanimously at board meetings, after no debate. It was already decided. They just went through the motions there. That’s not what a school board should do.”
When asked, as a civil servant, how he would be fundamentally different than his opponent, current chair Graham Paige, he replied, “I would be diversity on the school board. I mean, there’s this group think now, there’s no diversity, there’s no difference of thought.” (Emphasis added).
“So I would bring a new perspective in,” he said. “As these policies are coming down, I would be asking the hard questions that nobody’s asking today. I would be a vehicle to let parents participate. You know, as a school board member, I can call my own meetings, I can call my own committees, I can ask for committee assignments. Every every school board member gets to appoint a representative to the to each committee. … I mean, you’ve got a pretty much monolithic view of the parents that are assigned to the committees and they happen to agree with the agenda of the school board.”
“I’m also going to listen to the other school board members,” he said. “While they might have a different view than some of the parents, they’re smart people, and they’re nice people, I have met them, they’re nice people, I like them, they just, they just are focused on their agenda, which it’s a shame. … I don’t plan to be, a sore thumb on the county board, I don’t plan to be obnoxious.”
Zackrisson and his campaign manager, Laszlo Farkas, told Breitbart News that they are well aware of the uphill battle posed by a write-in candidacy this late in Virginia’s election year.
“Time. We’ve got a couple of months. We’ve got to get our message out there. That awful name out there,” Zackrisson said of the challenges his campaign faces, while also joking that the name “Zackrisson” was not exactly ideal for a write-in candidacy. “And I think we’ve got a lot of a lot of help in doing that. Funding is always a problem on a campaign, we obviously need some people to step up with some funds. … I think when the parents of the Samuel Miller district learn about what I represent, I think it will resonate with them. I mean, I think they’ll say, ‘Thank God somebody has got some common sense for a change on how we’re addressing our school system.'”
Farkas added, “Prioritization is obviously the most critical component to the time crunch that we’re under: figuring out what to focus on when, and making sure that we’re utilizing the time and resources spent in the most effective way. … So it’s about trying to get the message out there getting people to know his name — not just how to spell it — but just even knowing his name, starting somewhere, and getting … people that are willing to come together and … get them on the same page as quickly as possible, because there’s really no time to spare.”
Ultimately, however, Zackrisson is optimistic.
“Let me tell you, I’m very encouraged with the amount of this the groundswell of support that I’ve seen,” he said. “I mean, it’s a great thing to see people who were so beat down, and thinking that nobody is listening to them, saying, ‘Why even bother?’ now coming out and saying, ‘What can I do to help?'”