Fox News reported on Monday that Terry McAuliffe, the Virginia Democratic nominee for governor, downplayed concerns about critical race theory in education, describing them as a "right-wing conspiracy."
McAuliffe's dismissal was similar to others seen in liberal media outlets, which have attempted to portray the controversy as manufactured or ignorant of the theory itself. But recent revelations from Loudoun County, Va. – perhaps the most high-profile battleground for CRT – shows that the hotly debated ideology plays at least some role in the school district's decision-making.
For example, Fight for Schools PAC, an anti-CRT group in Loudoun, obtained an invoice showing that the district's diversity consultancy billed it for "Coaching support for LCPS leaders - follow up meetings focused on Critical Race Theory Development May 2020." That was billed at $625 per hour for five hours, or $3,750. LCPS did not respond to a request for comment on this.
An email obtained by Fox News also revealed the district's former superintendent, Eric Williams, acknowledging that its practices align with CRT.
"While LCPS has not adopted CRT, some of the principles related to race as a social construct and the sharing of stories of racism, racialized oppression, etc. that we are encouraging through the Action Plan to Combat Systemic Racism, in some of our professional learning modules, and our use of instructional resources on the Social Justice standards, do align with the ideology of CRT," he said (emphasis his).
More recently, school board member Beth Barts acknowledged that portions of CRT "probably" influenced the district's policies.
"When you look at critical race theory and you understand that critical race theory examines how racism is embedded not just in laws, but in policy as well," she said earlier this month. "And then you look at our equity committee, and you look at the mission of the equity committee. And the mission of the equity committee is to … make sure that our policies aren't biased and they are not discriminatory – and they're inclusive of all. So, while we are not teaching critical race theory necessarily in classrooms, I will say probably that there are portions of critical race theory that we may be applying when we give the lens to look at some of our policies."
When asked about Barts' comments, LCPS reiterated that it didn't teach CRT. Besides Barts, teachers Monica Gill and Jeremy Wright have accused the county of propagating CRT through trainings.
In April, Gill published an op-ed in which she disputed then-acting Superintendent Scott Ziegler's claim that "LCPS has not adopted Critical Race Theory as a framework for staff to adhere to."
"I’ve watched Loudoun County Public Schools (LCPS) implode under the destructive forces of critical race theory (CRT)," Gill wrote.
Fox News has obtained an email in which LCPS At-Large School Board Representative Denise Corbo indicated that much of Gill's comments were accurate.
"As an educator, I took part in the staff training and will concur most of what is outlined regarding the training and the reactions from my colleagues, are the same as what is written in this article," she told Ziegler. Corbo pressed him on whether CRT was being taught in schools, saying: "I am highly concerned with accusations surrounding CRT in LCPS."
Corbo did not immediately respond to Fox News' request for comment. Neither did Barts, and LCPS declined to comment on the emails.
Ziegler, whose position was made permanent last week, has also defended the 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."
Regardless, critics within the county argue that the district's trainings bear all the hallmarks of the controversial ideology.
Is CRT being utilized in Virginia and schools across the US?
Nailing down a definition of CRT is difficult, as one of its progenitors indicated it was a continuously evolving topic.
"CRT is not so much an intellectual unit filled with stuff – theories, themes, practices and the like – but one that is dynamically constituted by a series of contestations and convergences pertaining to the ways that racial power is understood and articulated in the post-civil rights era," said law professor Kimberle Crenshaw.
She went on to say: "I want to suggest that shifting the frame of CRT toward a dynamic rather than static reference would be a productive means by which we can link CRT’s past to the contemporary moment."
However, materials on and definitions of critical race theory bear striking resemblance to diversity trainings and content reported in the media. More specifically, they tend to focus on structural racism and White supremacy as being endemic to American society. Associated with that is the idea that colorblind approaches to problems are insufficient and that racism can take subtle forms like microaggressions or incidents of bias.
In their book, "Critical Race Theory: An Introduction," authors Richard Delgado and Jean Stefancic list generally agreed-upon tenets: Racism is ordinary and therefore difficult to cure; White people have a material interest in maintaining racism; and "race and races are products of social thought and relations."
Oxford Reference defines CRT as: "A radical movement within jurisprudence that traces its origin to a conference held in Madison, Wisconsin, in 1989. Sometimes called outsider jurisprudence, it sets out to challenge the conventional liberal approach to civil rights issues, in particular the notion that there can be a colour-blind view of social justice."
Virginia, like other states, has adopted racial language when discussing curricula. The Virginia Department of Education lists as a reference a statement titled "Mathematics Education Through the Lens of Social Justice: Acknowledgment, Actions, and Accountability."
The statement, released in conjunction with "TODOS: Mathematics for All," similarly criticizes "tracking." It also argues that schools should take a "social justice stance" that "interrogates and challenges the roles power, privilege, and oppression play in the current unjust system of mathematics education – and in society as a whole."
Another statement adds that even eliminating "tracking," or removing different lanes for math advancement, is not enough and that students must be willing to forgo their "privilege" in order to address inequities.
"Detracking continues to be 'tied to larger social inequities and racial injustice,'" the paper reads.
"Therefore, the goal of detracking will not be realized without working to dismantle the various social, political and cultural reasons tracking persists. Those that have been privileged by the current system must be willing to give up that privilege for more equitable schooling."