(I haven’t posted in a while. I started wondering, are there other cases where MAGA agitation basically blew up an entire Democratic-majority school board? It struck me as unusual. Herein is the tale.)
In 2019, the Loudoun County School Board (LCSB) in Virginia flipped Democratic. The county is a volatile mixture of residents. It used to be rural and white. Now it is the center of a new industry – data centers forming the backbone of the Internet – that has brought an influx of well-paid tech workers, many with ancestry in Asia. Immigration has also increased the Hispanic share of the population. Many tech workers are unionized, further shifting the political slant of the county.
The mixture is volatile because the long-standing residents hail from a past, as late as the 1960s, when the public schools were segregated. In the present day, as a state government report found, racist provocations among students in public schools were routinely observed.
The upshot is that relative to twenty years ago, many more people have moved into Loudoun than were here in the first place. They are different sorts of people, and it’s a new place. In 2020, Joe Biden received 61 percent of the vote here, but the following year, gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe only got 55 percent and lost statewide to Republican Glenn Youngkin.
The attack on the board has two levels. The public, legal effort comes from an outfit called “Fight for Schools,” led by a former Trump Department of Justice apparatchik. They have filed civil suits and launched recall petitions to remove Democratic board members. The underground side consisted of death threats directed at these same sitting board members.
The recall petitions only require 10 percent of voters, even though an elected board member could have received over fifty percent of votes. It’s basically a gambit to force election do-overs, forcing Democrats to win two elections, not just one.
The first shot was a suit filed in June of 2021 aimed at expressions of ‘DEI’ (diversity-equity-inclusion) policy in public schools, fueled by the demonization of Critical Race Theory. The lead plaintiff was a local Republican political operative now in the governor’s administration. A Federal judge dismissed this suit six months later, but not before the campaign facilitated Youngkin’s electoral appeal for so-called (white) parents’ rights. Also in 2021, a recall campaign on spurious grounds was launched targeting Democratic members of the board. A judge dismissed the suit in May of 2022, again bracketing Youngkin’s accession to the state house.
The anti-DEI push was super-charged by a sexual assault in an area high school bathroom in March of 2021, and later compounded when the county school administration transferred the assailant to a different high school where he committed a second assault in October (weeks before the election for governor). The student in question was said to be “a boy wearing a skirt” but this has never been established. (Since the girl was underage, a rape classification for the first encounter is automatic.) By this route, the old, divisive debate about transgender students being permitted to use girls’ bathrooms was revived.
Because public expressions of anti-black racism are not as permissible or as common as in prior decades, I argue that “transgender is the new black.” Transphobia is the gateway drug for the full spectrum of biases percolating in the U.S. Ultimately, transgender persons, LGBTQI+ people, blacks, Muslims, Jews, Asians, and immigrants are all under threat.
If the MAGA minority can freely express bigotry and establish biased policies against one group, it will expand its horizons. (This sort of warning bell is familiar to Jews.) We are already seeing how purported concern for transgender children expands to legislation abrogating the rights as well of all types and ages of LGBTQI+ persons. A prominent example is the absurd, national furor over drag queens.
The result is that no Democrats on the Loudoun County School Board are standing for reelection, even though all seats are up for election this year. Beth Barts has already resigned from the Board. Denise Corbo and Ian Serotkin are not seeking reelection. Board member Atoosa Reaser is leaving the Board to run for the state legislature. Former Board chair Brenda Sheridan is not only declining to stand for reelection, she is taking her family out of the county altogether. Sheridan, Serotkin, Corbo, and Reaser have all reported receiving death threats.
Republican members of the board have demonstrated themselves to be certifiable idiots. John Beatty was quoted claiming that after the Civil War, “It was worse for African Americans after reconstruction because they did not have the patronage of a master.” Another case in point is one Tiffany Polifko. She has appeared on Steve Bannon’s podcast more than once. In December of 2022, Facebook terminated her account. In a LCSB meeting, Polifko said that recognizing the phenomenon of white supremacy was itself racist, and illegal as well. This was possibly the dumbest remark I can ever remember coming from an elected official. Polifko is the only one seeking reelection.
The ascendance of these sorts of people to control of school governance cannot be helpful to the prospects of Loudoun’s best students for admission to competitive universities. Nor will it be helpful to students most in need of educational uplift.
Steve Bannon has said the road to political power in the U.S. runs through school boards. School board elections in Virginia are nominally non-partisan but have become thoroughly captive to party politics. Housing in Loudoun is expensive, reflecting its status as the richest county in the U.S., but people are willing to pay for access to the tech jobs and our well-regarded public schools. As such, they are susceptible to criticism of the schools. Issues in non-partisan local races can filter up to statewide elections, as we saw in 2021, and possibly this year and next.
I keep saying, Democrats, don’t sleep on Virginia! It may have looked like purple-going-blue, but that progress appears to be stalled.
The most potent weapon in this year’s local elections for Democrats is defense of reproductive rights, under threat of the 15-week abortion ban proposed by the governor. In the Democratic strongholds of Loudoun and next-door Fairfax County (where similar MAGA antics have been transpiring), a close second is the wisdom of fostering peace and harmony in public schools, which includes enforcing a nurturing environment for students of all types.
As political warfare by other means, transphobia has petered out in the past, including in Virginia. It can do so again. Number three, to promote turnout by people of color, though not as vital in Loudoun and Fairfax, is the defense of honest history against ignorant aspersions on Critical Race Theory and DEI policies. Naturally, neither do higher-income parents want their kids to be taught rubbish, see the side remark about college admission above.
Republican-lite is not going to cut it. Anybody who wants to vote Republican will find a real one.
Hi Max....thanks for concise description of what's troubling Loudoun. Forwarding it to friends.
And you left the friendly confines of Montgomery County for this narischkeit?