"Critical race theory," the phrase that has captured headlines and driven news cycles, was once relegated to the halls of academia. But as CRT and its associated ideas have spread to school districts, so went the demographics of people debating its implications.
Ideas related to CRT have featured prominently in controversial materials that pose what mothers see as a very real threat to their children's futures. Despite the controversy being painted by some as manufactured, the battle over CRT has thrust a long list of concerned parents into the public square.
From Oregon to Rhode Island to, perhaps most famously, the Loudoun County Public Schools in Virginia, mothers have pressed their local officials for answers and started organizations dedicated to combating highly racial content. "When these dedicated moms hear from their children how they are afraid to speak up in class for fear of harassment, discipline, or being reported in the new LCPS online 'bias reporting' system, this motivates them to get out there and fight like hell for their children," said Ian Prior, a father who leads the PAC focused on Loudoun County Public Schools' school board.
Prior's group has been working with moms in Loudoun County for months to recall multiple school board members who were found to be part of a controversial Facebook group that pushed left-leaning ideas. Fox News has spoken with dozens of parents who have collectively pointed to a pattern of being blindsided by a top-down push for "equity" by administrators. While that term has gained popularity on the left, survivors of more left-leaning governments have warned about its potentially disastrous consequences.
"We are teaching our children to be social justice warriors and to loathe our country and our history," said Xi Van Fleet at a Virginia school board meeting this week.
She added: "Growing up in China, all of this sounds very familiar. The Communist regime uses the same critical theory is to divide people. The only difference is that used class instead of race. This is indeed the American version of the Chinese cultural revolution."
Like her, mothers Monica Gill and Natassia Grover expressed concerns at Tuesday's meeting about the ideological underpinnings of these materials.
Outside of Virginia, mothers have fought back in Ohio, California, and Florida.
On Thursday, Florida mother Quisha King disputed the idea that CRT was about "racial sensitivity or simply teaching unfavorable American history or teaching Jim Crow history."
"CRT," she said at a school board meeting, "is deeper and more dangerous than that. CRT and its outworking today is a teaching that there's a hierarchy in society where White male, heterosexual, able-bodied people are deemed the oppressor, and anyone else outside of that status is oppressed. She continued: "I don't know about you, but telling my child or any child that they are in a permanent oppressed status in America because they are Black is racist – and saying that White people are automatically above me, my children, or any child is racist as well. This is not something that we can stand for in our country."
Defining CRT is notoriously difficult, as even its founder has suggested it has no permanent contours. That's why King's governor, Ron DeSantis, alluded to racial division rather than explicitly saying "critical race theory" in the rule he proposed at Thursday's school board meeting.
Defenders of the controversial content argue that it helps foster understanding between racial groups and break down systemic barriers to inclusion.
"The pursuit of equity in education is trying to realize foundational commitments to belonging, the idea of ‘liberty and justice for all,’ and making sure the 'we' in 'We the People' is big and truly does include each and every student and family in the community," said Oregon Department of Education spokesperson Marc Siegel. He was defending a series of department-sponsored events with "1619 Project" founder Nikole Hannah Jones.
"The experiences of Black students and families can and must be centered in our state, including the fullness of Black histories and Black futures," he added.
LCPS' superintendent Scott Ziegler has also defended teacher trainings, saying: "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. What they are is an effort to provide a welcoming, inclusive, affirming environment for all students."
Moms building the infrastructure to combat CRT in schools
These moms' anger translates into more than just mic-drop moments at school board meetings – they're organizing, too. Since CRT started becoming more prominent, moms have started or leveraged grassroots organizations to oppose CRT and its related ideas. Dads like Ian Prior and Scott Mineo are also joining the fight, each starting anti-CRT organizations in the past year.
Spearheading the investigative side of anti-CRT battles is Nicole Neily, a mother of two who founded the group Parents Defending Education (PDE). Led by former Wall Street Journal reporter Asra Nomani, a mother of one, Neily's group has peppered school systems across the country with copious public documents requests. Some of those have prompted national news stories, as was seen with another PDE leader and mother, Erika Sanzi, speaking with Fox News' Tucker Carlson last month.
Other outspoken mothers – such as Rachel Pisani, Tatiana Ibrahim, Elicia Brand, and Shawntel Cooper – have discussed the issue on Fox News as well.
Nomani is based in Virginia, which has seen an explosion of controversial ideas about race. Earlier this year, Fox News reported on a proposed framework for math that sought to achieve racial equity by blocking math acceleration. Similar ideas emerged in California and Oregon, where two mom-created groups – Oregonians for Liberty and Educators for Quality and Equality – worked to expose them. Both Lori Meyers of the latter and Kim Walters of the former said they started the groups last year in reaction to CRT.
According to Nomani, PDE has filed dozens of public records requests, pursued 20 deep investigations into school districts, and is receiving 100-200 tips per week. PDE is also filing federal complaints, which will likely face an uphill battle under President Biden but nonetheless could uncover additional information. Her group also created a comment portal, which helped facilitate comments on a grant program that has been criticized as a way for the Biden administration to promote CRT. Nomani told Fox News that her group facilitated more than 11,000 comments out of 34,000.
Controversial ideas about race have also surfaced in Virginia's so-called "social-emotional" learning standards, as well as efforts to lower standards in the state. Besides PDE, Nomani leads the Coalition for TJ, a group of parents suing the nation's top high school for lowering entry requirements in an alleged scheme to suppress Asian admissions. Another lawsuit has been filed by Mineo and Patti Hildalgo-Menders, who leads the Loudoun County Republican Women's Club. They're claiming that an LCPS equity ambassador program racially discriminated against their children and violated their right to free speech.
Further south, several moms are trying to check what they see as ideological influences on their schools. Vicky Manning, a Virginia Beach school board member and mom of two, recently pushed a resolution to ban ideas associated with CRT. She's also started a blog, where she exposed an "anti-racist" book study at an area school. Closer to Richmond, mom Yael Levin, is leading her state's chapter of No Left Turn in Education – an anti-CRT organization started by another mom, Dr. Elana Yaron Fishbein, last year.
In Ohio, two moms – Amy González and Andrea Gross – lead the Pro-CA Coalition, which is proposing a variety of reforms to Columbus Academy.
It's difficult to fully represent moms fighting CRT as many of them, like skeptical teachers, fear retaliation if they speak out on the issue.
Like Nomani, Rhode Island mom Nicole Solas filed a slew of public records requests out of concern for her daughter, who's entering kindergarten. She filed so many – reportedly more than 200 – that her school board considered asking a court to intervene. A school board vote put that to rest while the committees' chair and vice-chair stepped away from their leadership positions.
In Loudoun, perhaps the most prominent CRT battleground, the controversy has pitted residents against each other. Many of them have criticized alleged intimidation by others in the Anti-Racist Parents of Loudoun County Facebook group.
Members of the Facebook group allegedly tried to dox CRT opponents, amplifying national attention on the county. Some LCPS board members belong to the group, although the extent of their involvement with various activities remains unclear. They've been accused of tacitly allowing efforts to intimidate CRT opponents.
One of the Board's critics is Elizabeth Perrin, who has spoken at public meetings and helped in Prior's recall effort.
"There are people out there who want to see these people recalled, they are tired of having this agenda placed on our children and they can’t continue to politicize our children," she previously told "Fox & Friends First." These are our kids and this is their education and we need to keep being able to teach them ethics, morals, and values that are shared at home, not in the schools."