Virginia County School Board to Limit Public Comment amid Growing Opposition to Critical Race Theory

People hold up signs during a rally against "critical race theory" (CRT) being taught in schools at the Loudoun County Government center in Leesburg, Virginia on June 12, 2021. - "Are you ready to take back our schools?" Republican activist Patti Menders shouted at a rally opposing anti-racism teaching that …
ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS/AFP via Getty Images

The board of Albemarle County Public Schools (ACPS Board) in Virginia decided July 1 to limit public comment at their upcoming July 8 and August 12 meetings as growing opposition to teaching a radical Critical Race Theory (CRT) curriculum has permeated among parents and “the number of requests from people wishing to address the board during a meeting has exceeded two and three times [the] number” typically observed at ACPS Board meetings.

According to an ACPS Board press release, a “lottery” system will be instituted to choose those persons allowed to address the Board. “If more than 40 people sign up to speak during public comment at the July 8 meeting, Jon Zug, Albemarle County’s Circuit Court Clerk, will identify speakers using a random selection system similar to the one he uses to select juries,” the release detailed.

The press release also noted that “Under these circumstances, the time allotted to each speaker has had to be reduced from three minutes to two minutes,” and “If indeed more than 40 speakers sign up for public comment for the July 8 meeting, those selected by lottery will have two minutes on the agenda, extending public comment from 30 to 80 minutes.”

In response to a request for comment from Breitbart News regarding community concerns about the limitations, ACPS Strategic Communications Officer and Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) Officer Phil Giaramita noted that “The reassuring news for anyone who has the concerns you expressed is that these concerns were addressed up front, before any actions were announced. The use of a lottery only will become operable when we have more than 40 speakers sign up to address the Board in public, a development that has not occurred even once in the past ten years.”

Despite this, there is concern over the fairness of the lottery system and the motivations behind limiting public comment. As Shawn Johnson — a concerned ACPS parent and member of Citizens Advocating for Responsible Education (CARE), an Albemarle County-based grassroots movement against the CRT curricula — told Breitbart News, “Can we trust the board to hold a fair lottery? Not sure about that. The fact that this whole CRT curriculum pilot was rolled out with very little public awareness or parental input concerns me that the board and administrators may do whatever it takes to move forward without changes. … I think the board is concerned that there would be an overwhelming showing of opposition similar to the recent Loudoun [County, Virginia,] meeting.”

Johnson went on to detail a possible motivation behind the ACPS Board’s limitation of public comment, saying, “I believe during the last meeting there were 15 speakers in favor of the CRT curriculum and 16 opposed, so it was fairly evenly split. I would expect this time that there is much more opposition, though. Concerned parents have just recently started to get organized with email distribution, a website for latest information, and working on mass communication.”

As Breitbart News has previously reported, the ACPS Board voted to institute Critical Race Theory indoctrination in “pilot” form at Joseph T. Henley Middle School, a short experiment conducted in the latter part of the school year with reportedly very little parental input or content-level knowledge. Part of the curriculum involved the school “issuing its white students a ‘call to action’ in a video while simultaneously telling its black students that they ‘are shown over and over and over that [their] lives do not matter,’” before the slides were miraculously “updated” after a now-ousted teacher decided to share the curriculum with parents, which was obtained by Breitbart News and detailed in an original exposé.

Johnson further lamented to Breitbart News his “disappointment” with ACPS for focusing on such a divisive curriculum for children, saying, “In a school district that has been so successful for so many years, it’s extremely disappointing that things are heading in this direction. I’m aware of several parents who are pulling their kids out of ACPS because of CRT. In the 16 years our kids (3 of them) have been in these schools, I have yet to hear about any racial issues. The fact that ‘anti-racism’ is now the number one focus for this district is baffling. Not STEM, not graduation rates, not SAT scores. What’s the plan after all the kids are indoctrinated? Time to fight racism? Where? We’ll fight it today, but where do we go? It’s not here. This is one of the tightest communities I’ve ever seen, until this mess started to divide us. Let teachers prepare kids for work and college. Let parents prepare kids for LIFE.”

But according to many parents in Albemarle County, the sentiment expressed by Johnson oftentimes falls on deaf ears at the official level — and the latest move to limit comment is further evidence of the communication barriers already erected by the ACPS Board.

Indeed, in an email exchange provided to Breitbart News, Graham Paige, the ACPS Board chair and representative of the Samuel Miller Magisterial District, can be seen obfuscating in response to a formal request for an addition of a Board meeting agenda item for an in-depth discussion of the findings of the Henley pilot program and the Anti-Racism policy as a whole. The request was made in compliance with ACPS Board guidance, which states, “When an individual and/or organization would like to be formally scheduled on the School Board agenda, the individual and/or organization must submit the request in writing to the Superintendent or Chairman” at least ten days in advance of the meeting.

The request, citing a petition circulating among those opposed to the “Courageous Conversations” CRT curriculum, stated in part:

To date, nearly four hundred adult citizens have signed a petition asking the Board to pause any future and broader implementation of the Courageous Conversations program to allow adequate time for 1) a comprehensive, balanced analysis and review of the program content by administrators, teachers, parents, and community, supported by objective facts and 2) open, public surveys and forms to discuss the materials and findings. The petitioners also asked for a town hall where the components of the Courageous Conversations can be presented to the public and questions may be asked. Finally, these citizens asked for quantitative feedback from the Henley Pilot in conjunction with performance relative to original program benchmarks and goals.

When submitted, [ACPS Superintendent] Dr. Haas replied summarily ignoring the requests, referencing an inaccurate rollout/coordination timeline and pointing the petitioners back to the Anti-Racist policy. Since then, we have learned of a survey that was sent to the children at Henley (in violation of the ACPS policy that survey materials should be first presented to parents). This survey appears to be the basis of the quantitative “in-depth” analysis referenced by Dr. Haas, yet its contents are grossly inadequate for this purpose.

Rather than focusing on the poor implementation aspects of the pilot or its lack of transparency, it is more important to focus on the quality of the content and the troubling violations of ACPS policy made by the content. We would like an opportunity to have a two-way discussion with the Board Members as a formal agenda item to point out the inconsistencies with school policies and to ask for a cessation of any further curriculum roll-outs founded in the principles of the Anti-Racist Policy. Furthermore, we seek to present a formal request to the Board to re-review the 2019 motion to accept Anti-Racist policy, in accord with ACPS policy BDDFA “Reconsideration of Motions Passed by the Board” in light of the excesses and overreach that it has enabled in curriculum that violate student and parental rights. Finally, we are requesting that the draft Strategic Plan, which is aligned to the Anti-Racist policy, is not adopted in its draft form for the same fundamental reasons.

In response, however, Paige simply refers the requester to the public comment period of the school board meeting, ignoring the request for an addition of a formal agenda item:

The School Board invites and actively seeks the public’s input in the matters relevant to School Board governance and provide for time in our business meetings to hear from our residents and community members. During public comment, we expect respectful and on-topic comments.

With regard to the Henley pilot program, I know the principal has held several meetings with parents, both those who supported the pilot and those who did not, to hear their input and to make improvements. I understand you have not contacted the principal and I urge you to do so, both to verify the accuracy of all of the information you have received and to discuss your concerns.

But Paige’s deflection did not go unchallenged:

I, along with several other community members, have respectfully submitted similar grave concerns in this forum. Those community members, along with hundreds of other community members, also submitted a petition. In both cases, the inputs have achieved no response from the School Board. It is because of the apparent lack of admission of these concerns for any further discussion that I am exercising my right as stated in Policy BG-E to be added to the agenda for the next School Board meeting. Speaking for two or five minutes off the record is insufficient to address the magnitude of the content I exposed in my original request. I am seeking specific board actions, and nothing in the public forum is captured as actionable.

Prior engagement with the principal of Henley Middle School is not relevant to my agenda item request. The principal is the correct authority for the initiation of a Curriculum Complaint, but is not the correct authority for addressing School Board violations of ACPS policy. Division-wide violations of School Board policy should be addressed directly to the authoritative body/signatory of the ACPS policies.

The amount of time and coordination that went into Board-approved policies and curriculum does not change the fact that the policies and curriculum violate other School Board-approved policies. Whether one hour or one thousand hours were expended leaves the same result: policies, curriculum and a draft strategic plan that violate ACPS policies that should protect students, parents, and teacher rights.

And in response, 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.

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.

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.

ACPS Strategic Communications Officer Phil Giaramita further asserted that:

It is untrue that parents have been ignored by the School Board. Parents opposed to the Henley pilot regularly have addressed the School Board, sent emails and have received responses. It also is untrue that the lesson plan for the Henley pilot was developed in secret. Emails sent to all parents by the principal about this activity date back to November of 2020, a full six months before the lessons began. The lessons are posted online. Placed in context, these lessons are part of a 20-minute discussion period for students that is facilitated, not taught by a teacher, in which students talk about such topics as their career interests, developing healthy relationships, school safety and any other issues they want to explore. The anti-racism conversations are based upon the division’s anti-racism policy, internally developed and approved by the School Board.

Despite this, as Breitbart News has previously reported, many parents assert they were not adequately informed, and, in fact, the disclosure of the curricula to parents resulted in the ousting of one of Henley Middle School’s teachers:

As parents became informed of the lesson plan, some requested to opt their children out of the curriculum. In an email exchange provided to Breitbart News, one parent told Ferraro, “I really feel that they should have given the parents more information and access to all the slides. I looked through them and … felt very uncomfortable.” Ferraro agreed, stating, “Honestly, I feel like, in a way, the ‘anti-racism’ actually causes more damage than good. I have no idea what the county is intending to do regarding this or why it was brought into action. I remember a time when schools worked hard to teach empathy and kindness at an early age, so students see their similarities as being more important than their differences.”

Moreover, the curricula dives into many more topics than simply “career interests, developing healthy relationships, school safety and any other issues they want to explore.” Breitbart News has reported many instances of the curriculum pushing extremely controversial topics, which include, but are not limited to:

To critical race theorists like Ibram X. Kendi, a chief purveyor and architect of anti-racist ideology and its programmatic material as well as an often-cited figure in Albemarle County’s curricula, one can only either be anti-racist or racist — there is no way to simply not be racist. Indeed, as shown below in one of the slides from the pilot program, Kendi believes “children are either going to learn racist or antiracist ideas … if we don’t actively protect them from this dangerous racist society, what do you think they will be taught?” (Emphasis added).

One student told Breitbart News that “they asked if we liked the religion our parents chose for us,” and another concerned parent … said that “Questions are posed to question if they were truly born into the gender that their parents say they are? Do you want to change but are afraid? The question has also been posed if you have the same beliefs your parents have or are your beliefs different?” (Emphasis added).

The radical indoctrination becomes much more acute in eighth grade with survey questions that ask students to agree or disagree with ideas like, “It is okay to say phrases like ‘I am white?’”

“The DOMINANT CULTURE is… in the U.S.: people who are white, middle class, Christian, and cisgender… [and] is… in charge of the institutions and have established behaviors…”

The goal of the ACPS Board is to, based on the Henley “data,” expand the radical ideology to all coursework across schools in Albemarle County. Indeed, the July 8 meeting is set to cover many controversial topics, including the new Strategic Plan, a final draft of which was obtained by Breitbart News, and the New Transgender Policy, which is set to be based on statewide guidelines. These new policies are expected to be far-reaching and sharply transformative with regard to the interference the school division can play between a child and their parents. Indeed, many parents detailed to Breitbart News that, because school is no longer in session, the ACPS Board “will be able to use the time to avoid accountability and come out with much more radical curricula without public oversight or input.”

Among other things, the Strategic Plan is set to “record and report,” as a measure for “thriving students,” the “number of student volunteer/activism hours, numbers should increase each year.”

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