In an interview published Monday by The New York Times, Gov. Ralph Northam (D) denounced the actions and rhetoric of a Loudoun County group opposed to critical race theory.
“Critical race theory is a dog whistle that the Republicans are using to frighten people,” Northam told political reporter Astead Herndon.
A group of Loudoun County Public Schools parents and community members have spent several months criticizing the school system for allegedly adopting critical race theory in its curriculum, despite Superintendent Scott Ziegler’s repeated denials.
That group has further accused LCPS of incorporating critical race theory under the veneer of its “Culturally Responsive Framework,” a document drafted in June 2020 after the school system endured a series of race-related controversies.
The American Bar Association defines critical race theory as the understanding that race is “socially constructed and socially significant,” and that “racism is a normal feature of society and embedded within systems and institutions.”
Race and equity have been a major part of Northam’s platform and public image since 2019, when he admitted to having worn blackface decades ago.
A native of Virginia’s Eastern Shore, Northam told Herndon that his efforts to recover from that scandal — such as compiling a reading list about race and conducting a “listening tour” — led him to “reflect on my own education.”
He said he was in the sixth grade when public schools were desegregated and that he “experienced white privilege and Black oppression, but I really never took the next step and have people explain to me why it was so important.”
“...what we’re teaching, and what we’ve been taught, is not only inadequate but inaccurate,” Northam said. “Our textbooks are inadequate and inaccurate, as is who’s teaching them.”
He added, “I think there are a lot of white people that are open-minded and want to do better. And you may be able to teach them something that they never realized. But there’s some people that don’t want to lose their parking spots.”
Northam’s comments come two days after an anti-critical race theory rally, held Saturday outside the Loudoun County Government Center in Leesburg, and featured more than a dozen speakers.
One of those speakers was Ian Prior, executive director of parent group Fight for Schools and a former spokesman for the Department of Justice in the Trump administration.
In a Monday email to the Times-Mirror, Prior countered Northam’s claim that Republicans are using critical race theory as a scare tactic.
“Our movement has unified people, regardless of political affiliation for one mission — ending the toxic and divisive manner in which teachers are trained and students are taught,” he said.
Conversely, Loudoun County School Board members Leslee King (Broad Run District) and Ian Serotkin (Blue Ridge District) backed the governor’s dismissal of claims that LCPS has adopted critical race theory.
“Critical race theory is an academic study and not teaching for K-12,” King said in an email to the Times-Mirror.
Serotkin opined in his own email, saying critical race theory “is a thoroughly unhelpful term” that is being employed in “radically different” ways by different groups.
“For some, it’s the college-level academic theory originating in the 1970’s. Others are using the term interchangeably with anything having to do with equity, anything having to do with a Culturally Responsive Framework, or with anything at all having to do with teaching about racism,” he said.
Serotkin continued, “We need to get to a place where we’re talking about what the actual, specific concerns with the curriculum are rather than talking nebulously or generally about CRT.”