Loudoun County, Virginia’s school superintendent said Friday that the First Amendment prevents him from doing anything about teachers’ involvement in a secret enemies list targeting parents who are concerned that the schools’ “equity” policies amount to political indoctrination.
But earlier this month, a member of the school board’s Equity Committee proposed banning students from wearing clothing with a Donald Trump insignia, asking to make “a system-wide ruling and write that into the policy.” And the superintendent last year played a key role in a proposed policy that would have explicitly stripped staff of their constitutional rights to ensure that they conformed with “equity” policies.
The Daily Wire’s March 16 expose, “Teachers Compile List Of Parents Who Question Racial Curriculum, Plot War On Them,” documented how members of a Facebook group that included current and former teachers, among others, intended to take action against parents who were critical, skeptical or even neutral about the schools’ focus on race. A call to action pledged to “Infiltrate… shut down their websites… expose these people publicly.”
On March 19, Interim Superintendent Scott Ziegler sent a message to all parents in response, titled “Rumors Concerning LCPS Equity Work.”
“It has come to my attention that individuals, including some identifying themselves as LCPS employees, have made statements across social media about parents and their thoughts about the school division’s equity work. LCPS recognizes the right of its employees to free speech, but does not condone anyone targeting members of the community for their viewpoint,” the message read.
“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,” it added.
Loudoun officials’ concern about the Constitution and desire to be welcoming, however, appears to be selective.
On September 22, 2020, Ziegler — who at the time led the human resources division — presented a policy to the school board that would have banned school staff from disagreeing with the school system’s views on “systemic racism” and other racial issues, even off-campus.
“An employee’s First Amendment right to engage in protected speech… may be outweighed by the school division’s interest in… [protecting] class equity, racial equity, and the goal to root out systemic racism,” said the draft policy.
“Actions that are not in alignment with the school division’s commitment to action-oriented equity practices” include “off-campus speech, social media posts, and any other telephonic or electronic communication.” Any employees who “have witnessed such conduct, should notify their supervisor immediately.”
Faced with withering criticism, the school board did not adopt the policy. But this was not apparently because the school system had a newfound understanding of the Constitution.
On March 4, at the most recent meeting of the school board’s Equity Committee, which consists of both school board members and citizens, member Tara Hewan called for the school system to ban students from wearing materials related to former President Donald Trump (at 1:11:00 of video).
Director of School Administration Douglas Fulton was discussing how equity fits in to “flexibility in [the] dress code policy by saying that any organization that does represent hate or hate towards others will not be allowed in school because it could create a disruptive environment.”
Hewan spoke up: “I think, I’m wondering about the Trump 2020 flag, and how it started off as a, you know, wanting people to vote for Trump, and then I would say after the insurrection that it has became [sic] a symbol of hate. So I’m just wondering about how we can not necessarily make this about principles, individually trying to determine, but make the, ah, system-wide ruling and write that into the policy,” she said.
There were 24 people on the call, and some nodded, while none interjected to express disagreement.
Fulton said Ziegler might take similar action on his own. “We can bring that back to the committee. I would say some of this may come more from a superintendent’s directive, because those can occur after a policy has been put into place. And that the superintendent has a feeling that it’s becoming disruptive maybe it can come from a message from the superintendent.”
Hewan replied, “When we’re thinking about identity-affirming spaces, we also have an obligation to really attend to our students who have been marginalized, especially historically marginalized, so I could see that that expression makes students feel uncomfortable and it’s a marginalization and oppressive language.”
Brenda Sheridan, the chairwoman of the full school board, replied, “Thank you.”
In addition to serving on the committee of “citizens,” Hewan worked for LCPS as a professional “equity specialist” until last year, when she took the same job for neighboring Fairfax County. Hewan’s new supervisor described her as showing “grace, consciousness and humility” and coming “from a place of reality.”
The Daily Wire’s story detailed how after Beth Barts, a far-left school board member, was disciplined by colleagues for her social media conduct, she sought refuge in a private Facebook group called “Anti-Racist Parents of Loudoun County,” where she encouraged others to “call out statements and actions that undermine our stated plan to end systemic racism.” After members began naming parents, she wrote, “Thank you for stepping up. Silence is complicity.”
Barts also doxxed at least one parent off of Facebook, according to an email newly obtained by The Daily Wire. On March 13, Barts wrote to the Equity Committee for that purpose, while claiming that she was doing so not as an elected representative, but “as a parent… This is why I am using my personal email.”
“The group [Parents Against Critical Theory] (P.A.C.T) has become bolder in the last few months. They post in many parent forums,” she wrote, before naming a parent who she said had donated $1,000 to the group. “I refuse to stand by as a parent in LCPS and not call this out. Without a clear rebuttal the general public will continue to hear from this group and form opinions based on misinformation. Silence is complicity.”
Ziegler’s message to parents in response to the furor over the enemies list said that “LCPS has not adopted Critical Race Theory as a framework for staff to adhere to…. but does have a Culturally Responsive Framework.” That 28-page document echoes key critical race theory concepts and was written in part by Hewan.
His response also sent readers to a web page about the schools’ Equity program, which under the header “Resource [sic] for LCPS Community,” linked to sources like Learning for Justice (previously Teaching Tolerance), which offers a lesson plan called “Critical Race Theory,” and to a National Museum of African American History and Culture site with pages for educators such as one called “Whiteness,” a key critical race theory term. It also linked to a list of books such as “How to Be Antiracist,” by Ibram X. Kendi, a well-known practitioner of critical race theory.
His full statement is below:
Dear LCPS Community,
Today, I am releasing the Interim Superintendent’s Update: Rumors Concerning LCPS Equity Work. I hope this statement will help to clarify many of the misperceptions being reported by certain media outlets and social media and reemphasize our commitment to equity for all LCPS students and staff.
In recent days, media reports and social media posts have sought to distort the equity work by Loudoun County Public Schools. Misconceptions and misinformation persist. I want to take a moment to clarify LCPS’ efforts to ensure every student, employee and member of the community is treated in an equitable, respectful manner.
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.
LCPS’ equity plan is outlined on the Equity webpage on the LCPS website.
LCPS is not alone in this work. The Virginia Department of Education and school divisions across the Commonwealth and America are engaged in similar efforts.
To start the process to improve its learning environment, LCPS hired The Equity Collaborative in 2019 to perform a Systemic Equity Assessment. This assessment asked students, parents and educators about their experiences with LCPS based on social and cultural factors and their race. The assessment, submitted to the school division in June 2019, identified five barriers that could prevent students from attaining the world-class education LCPS strives to provide. These barriers included race, poverty, learning disabilities, academic expectations and discipline practices. Of these five factors, the assessment identified race as the most prevalent problem.
Areas where LCPS was found to need improvement included accountability, hiring practices and professional development. The Equity Collaborative recommended professional development for staff in the area of recognizing the social and cultural differences in our diverse student body. Professional development was undertaken using both nationally recognized consultants and LCPS staff trained to facilitate such work. The goal of this work was to raise the racial consciousness and equity literacy of LCPS’ staff.
The professional development offered to LCPS employees explores issues that have traditionally been ignored in professional development. It asks employees to examine their own personal biases and how they might affect student instruction and interactions with the community. Concepts such as white supremacy and systemic racism are discussed during professional development. LCPS has not adopted Critical Race Theory as a framework for staff to adhere to. Social media rumors that staff members have been disciplined or fired for not adhering to the tenets of Critical Race Theory or for refusing to teach this theory are not true.
It should be noted that students do not receive equity training. LCPS has not adopted a uniform equity curriculum, but does have a Culturally Responsive Framework. This framework speaks to providing a welcoming, affirming environment and developing cultural competence through culturally responsive instruction, deeper learning, equitable classroom practices and social-emotional needs for a focus on the whole child. Individual schools incorporate these best practices to meet the needs of their school community. This framework is in-line with emerging guidance from the Commonwealth of Virginia and Virginia Department of Education.
LCPS’ work on equity is a journey that requires the commitment of staff at all levels. I feel the staffs’ work, which has been sustained, honest and undertaken in good faith, has been misrepresented recently by some members of the public.
It has come to my attention that individuals, including some identifying themselves as LCPS employees, have made statements across social media about parents and their thoughts about the school division’s equity work. LCPS recognizes the right of its employees to free speech, but does not condone anyone targeting members of the community for their viewpoint.
LCPS remains committed to its equity work. At the outset, we knew this work would create many hard, but necessary, conversations. I ask only that these conversations be based in fact. In the near future, LCPS will be sharing more communications about our equity work so that our community has a deeper understanding of the journey we are on to provide the best education for all of our students.“
Scott A. Ziegler, Ed.D.