Colorado parents’ advocates on Thursday rejected critical race theory as an explanation for conservatives flipping eight county school boards and for the victory of Republican Glenn Youngkin in Virginia’s gubernatorial race.
Tyler Sandberg, vice president of the educational reform nonprofit Ready Colorado, said Tuesday’s parent-driven conservative wins in Colorado and Virginia came primarily from parents frustrated at how public school districts handled COVID-19 lockdowns.
“There’s been a lot of media attention nationally to masks and critical race theory, but ultimately the fire was lit when teachers’ unions kept schools closed beyond all reason,” Mr. Sandberg told The Washington Times. “In Colorado, pot shops were open but schools were closed.”
On Tuesday, conservative slates of challengers flipped targeted school boards in the South Denver suburb of Douglas County and in Mesa County, covering Grand Junction and West Slope.
Conservatives also flipped the school boards in six other districts.
Mr. Sandberg rejected media accounts that attributed the conservative victories in Colorado and Virginia primarily to White backlash against critical race theory, which espouses that U.S. institutions are inherently racist.
“People like to put these school boards into partisan camps, but a lot of times it’s parents versus the bureaucratic system,” he said.
Andrea Haitz, a mother of three who was elected Tuesday to Mesa County’s District 51 school board, said she ran for office as “a concerned parent” upset about COVID-19 restrictions extending “beyond common sense.”
“Some of it is critical race theory, but the real issue is that parents want our voice to be heard about masks and vaccine mandates,” Ms. Haitz said. “If anything, I think our protocols got more cumbersome this year than last year.”
Kelly Sloan, an education policy fellow for the Centennial Institute think tank at Colorado Christian University, agreed that critical race theory was only part of the issue.
“The overarching issue is parental involvement and school boards ignoring parents’ input on the education of their children,” Mr. Sloan, a conservative columnist with Colorado Politics and father of one, told The Washington Times.
“No matter how much money we throw at it, public education isn’t delivering the goods,” he said.
Colorado’s results have tracked to some extent with Tuesday’s exit polls from Virginia, fueling media speculation that a mounting culture wars backlash against President Biden portends massive GOP gains nationwide in next year’s midterm elections.
Conservative Manhattan Institute fellow Chris Rufo, MSNBC host Nicole Wallace, and NPR’s Domenico Montanaro have all credited parent-driven outrage over critical race theory for the GOP gains in Virginia.
In exit polls from Tuesday’s sweeping Republican victories in Virginia, Youngkin voters cited education as their second-most important issue, flipping a once-blue state that President Biden carried by 10 percentage points last year.
Virginia voters mentioned public school lockdowns, mask mandates, gender ideology and critical race theory as driving their concerns in the area of education.
Major issues in the Colorado school boards contests included expanded school choice, test scores and COVID-related mandates, especially masking.
But Colorado teachers’ union-endorsed candidates retained school board majorities in Denver and Jefferson County, both Democratic Party strongholds.
Brooke Williams, president of the Jeffco Education Association, told Colorado Politics on Thursday that those victories confirm that “voters showed they trust the educators in the classroom.”
“I’m very excited because these are the candidates who will help unite our community for our students’ future … they’re going to be focused on our students, expanding career and technical education programs and career opportunities, what our students need and what educators need to improve education in Jeffco and give students the best possible experience,” Ms. Williams told the publication.
The publication reported Tuesday that school board candidates drew more than $2 million in so-called “dark money” campaign contributions from conservative nonprofits like Ready Colorado, which Mr. Sandberg co-founded.
Mr. Sandberg confirmed to The Times that Ready Colorado gave financial support to candidates in Douglas County and the Aurora area, but said the group also advised parents who successfully ran for seats on their school boards.
“These are parents running for office, not political operatives,” he said. “They’re not running for ideological reasons, but because they believe the schools failed them and the school boards needed to do better by prioritizing kids over adults.”