Critical race theory, a reframing of U.S. history that puts racism at the center of the American experience, has exploded in recent months from obscure academic debate to furious national argument playing out at school board meetings, in courtrooms and on social media.
In Las Vegas, a charter school is being sued over claims that a curriculum is linked to the “woke” take on America’s troubled racial past. Proponents of the curriculum say critical race theory is long overdue.
In Philadelphia, a parent opposed to teachings of critical race theory started a Facebook group last year called No Left Turn in Education. The group has accumulated more than 36,000 members.
Critics say critical race theory is little more than a divisive anti-American update of Marxism — based on faulty scholarship, to boot.
In Essex Junction, Vermont, concerned parents held a rally last week against teaching critical race theory in schools.
Lawmakers in Idaho, Oklahoma, Tennessee and at least 10 other states have proposed or passed bills this year to limit or prohibit critical race theory in schools. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican, vowed this month to get every “political apparatus involved so we can make sure there’s not a single school board member who supports critical race theory.”
Against a nationwide backdrop of calls for racial and social justice after George Floyd’s death in the custody of Minneapolis police last year, schools, corporations and elected leaders on the left have scrambled to embrace critical race theory.
Mr. DeSantis and other conservatives, however, reject critical race theory’s most provocative assertion: that systemic racism favoring Whites is baked into American government, society and culture.
Proponents say critical race theory offers a more honest perspective of America’s founding. Purdue University said in a statement that it “attempts to demonstrate not only how racism continues to be a pervasive component throughout dominant society, but also why this persistent racism problematically denies individuals many of the constitutional freedoms they are otherwise promised in the United States’ governing documents.”
Loudoun County, Virginia, has come into the national spotlight in recent months as a key battleground in the debate.
Ian Prior, a parent in the affluent exurb of the District of Columbia, is leading a petition drive to remove school board members pushing critical race theory. He said the local movement likely grew out of pandemic-related school closures.
“Parents are seeing what their kids are learning through distance learning, and they’re getting a look behind the curtain,” Mr. Prior told The Washington Times.
Mr. Prior, who writes an occasional column in The Times, is a media executive who has worked for the Justice Department in the Trump administration and for the National Republican Congressional Committee.
Last summer, he and other parents began speaking out at school board meetings against Loudoun County Public Schools’ closures. Concerns about the coronavirus shifted to critical race theory in the fall after he “took an interest” in a company that the district paid to conduct a systemic equity assessment.
Through a Freedom of Information Act request, Mr. Prior learned that the school system had paid The Equity Collaborative more than $420,000 for the assessment. The discovery, he said, “turned a few heads.”
As part of the assessment, the company asked Loudoun County students, parents and teachers about their experiences based on racial, social and cultural factors. Results published in June 2019 show that top concerns included poverty, academic expectations, disciplinary practices and the way the district deals with the learning disabled. The No. 1 concern, according to The Equity Collaborative, was racism.
“And I found it really interesting that, you know, this was a company that one of their frameworks was critical race theory and that it basically informed how they approached their work with schools,” Mr. Prior said.
The school district has used the assessment to form a comprehensive equity plan, which Superintendent Scott Ziegler insists does not include critical race theory.
“LCPS has not adopted Critical Race Theory as a framework for staff to adhere to,” Mr. Ziegler wrote in a post on the district’s website this year. “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.”
Nonetheless, Mr. Prior and other opponents of critical race theory have become regulars at school board meetings. They formed a political action committee in April called Fight for Schools to try to oust six of the nine board members who they say are “infecting” schools with critical race theory.
“What I hope comes from, really, this whole movement is that parents everywhere unite [and] form organizations that can be representative bodies that have this seat at the table with school boards,” Mr. Prior said.
Most states allow for recall elections, but Virginia runs the process through a circuit court, where a jury makes decisions.
Lawyer Charles King told The Times that he was hired to represent school board member Beth Barts against a removal petition.
“There is no getting around the fact [that] this fake outrage is an attempt to stop LCPS from implementing mandatory inclusive and culturally responsive policies and practices,” Mr. King said. “When this is over, I hope the public sees there are adults in the room and smear politics is not how we run our [government].”
At least 50 efforts to recall members of public school boards have been launched nationwide this year, according to the Ballotpedia Mid-Year Recall Report.
Mr. Prior said the Loudoun County petition drive is “a bit of a microcosm” of the national debate.
“I think it sends a message to the rest of the country that, you know, this is what’s going to happen in the country if parents don’t get control of what’s going on at their local schools,” he said.