Former President Obama condemned Virginia Republican gubernatorial candidate Glenn Youngkin for focusing on hot-button education issues during the campaign, dismissing those issues as unserious and "fake outrage." Virginia parents and parent advocates shot back at Obama's remarks, calling them "tone deaf" and "clueless."
"We don't have time to be wasting on these phony trumped-up culture wars, this fake outrage that right-wing media peddles to juice their ratings," Obama said while campaigning for Democrat Terry McAuliffe on Saturday. He accused Youngkin of avoiding "serious problems that affect serious people" and suggested that outrage over the actions of school boards is unjustified.
"Instead of stoking anger aimed at school boards and administrators, who are just trying to keep our kids safe… we should be making it easier for teachers and schools to give our kids the world-class education they deserve, and to do so safely while they are in the classroom," Obama said.
Parents did not take kindly to Obama's remarks.
"That is the most tone-deaf statement I have ever heard," Brandon Michon, a frustrated father of three in Loudoun County, Virginia, told Fox News on Sunday. "First and foremost, everything that has come up with the cover-up in Loudoun County has to do with a sexual assault on girls. To say that this is trumped-up as a political thing is laughable."
Michon referenced allegations that Loudoun County Superintendent Scott Ziegler and the school board covered up the report that a male student in a skirt allegedly assaulted a female student in a girls' bathroom – while the board was considering a controversial transgender rule. A bombshell email last week revealed that Ziegler had notified the board about the assault about a month before he publicly declared that he had no record of bathroom assaults. Prosecutors confirmed that the same young man who stands accused in that May incident also stands accused of sexual assault in an October incident in another school.
Parents have demanded the resignations of Ziegler and the board, and Youngkin has joined them in those demands.
Wayne Byard, a spokesman for Loudoun County Public Schools, told Fox News that the school district "reported the alleged sexual assault on May 28 at Stone Bridge High School to the Loudoun County Sheriff's Office immediately." Byard noted that the superintendent notified the school board of the alleged assault on May 28, but because "the nature of the incident was still under investigation," the report "could not be released to the general public" at the time. The Oct. 6 incident "was reported to the Sheriff's Office immediately," as well.
"In the current politically charged atmosphere, a lot of claims and demands have been made. The focus of the superintendent and School Board remains the education of Loudoun County’s 81,000 students," Byard added.
"Any parent, regardless of our political views – Republican, Democrat, Independent – wants our kids to go to school and be safe," Michon told Fox News. "People are upset because Loudoun County covered up that they knew about sexual assaults and the question is, what else do we not know about?"
"It doesn’t feel like it’s culture war or fake outrage," he added.
"Obama is clearly clueless or intentionally misleading the crowd," Laura Zorc, director of education reform at Building Education for Students Together (BEST), told Fox News in an interview on Sunday. A parent and former school board member, Zorc has trained hundreds of parents to engage with their school boards. Her organization combats COVID-19 restrictions and critical race theory, pushing for school choice.
"Parents are fed up with politics being forced down the throats of our kids," Zorc added. "Parental rights is on the ballot in Virginia. This is not a Republican or a Democrat issue – it's a parents issue."
"Parents are craving leadership that will protect them from the wokism," she added. "Youngkin is clearly the only candidate willing to fight for parents. Obama peddling this nonsense shows he is in denial that anything is wrong."
"Parents in Virginia are very real mama bears and papa bears expressing a mighty roar for their cubs," Asra Nomani, a Virginia mother and vice president of the group Parents Defending Education, told Fox News on Sunday. "They are not some kind of circus animal doing tricks for a master of ceremonies."
"They are immigrants from China and India who care about merit education, and regular moms and dads who want to get porn out of school libraries and protect kids from sexual assault," Nomani added.
She noted that Virginia has about 1.3 million students enrolled in public schools and that the current governor, Ralph Northam, only won by just over 200,000 votes in 2017, out of 2.5 million voters.
"Virginia's mama bears and papa bears will likely decide the 2021 gubernatorial election, and politicians on both sides of the aisle would be well served by understanding the power of parents – and valuing them," Nomani concluded.
The Youngkin campaign has called for more parental involvement in their children's education, while McAuliffe has attempted to distance himself from remarks he made during a September debate. "I don’t think parents should be telling schools what they should teach," he said at the time.
"Glenn has addressed this multiple times before Obama came to Virginia to try to bail Terry out," campaign spokesperson Macaulay Porter told Fox News on Sunday. "Although the former president’s false statements have gotten plenty of coverage, what is truly notable is the former president acknowledging there is a turning point in Virginia. That's something we all can agree on -- it is a turning point because Virginians are so tired of what Terry McAuliffe and the left liberal progressives have done to Virginia."