4/15/21: Loudoun Times Mirror “Teacher accuses parent group of ‘racism’ after group criticizes LCPS equity efforts”

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By John Battiston jbattiston@loudountimes.com Apr 15, 2021

During the April 8 meeting of the Loudoun County School Board’s Equity Committee, a Loudoun County Public Schools teacher accused a local parents group of racism in response to that group’s continued allegations that LCPS is employing critical race theory in its employee training and student curriculum — something the school system has consistently denied.

The public comments from Andrea Weiskopf — who teaches Latin at River Bend Middle School in Sterling — are the latest chapter in an ongoing conflict in the LCPS community over the school system’s “Culturally Responsive Framework.”

“Over the past few weeks, a small group of Loudoun residents have put their racism on display for the nation,” Weiskopf said.

“They have been emboldened by the meekness and the silence of those on the School Board and in the community who, just one year ago, marched boldly through the streets of Leesburg to protest the pervasive use of violence against Black and brown bodies,” she said.

Reports surfaced last month that members of a Facebook group called “Anti-Racist Parents of Loudoun County” had compiled and shared a list of local businesses to boycott due to their owners’ stances on coronavirus-related school restrictions and on LCPS’ stance on equity in education.

Members of the Facebook group repeatedly criticized P.A.C.T., which argues that LCPS Interim Superintendent Scott Ziegler and the School Board implement critical race theory at the classroom and faculty training levels.

The matter resulted in a Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office investigation after a member of “Anti-Racist Parents” allegedly called for other members to “infiltrate” P.A.C.T. through potentially illicit means.

Loudoun Parents for Education — which, like P.A.C.T., believes LCPS is employing critical race theory — materialized last month in the wake of the controversy, and on March 23 announced a campaign to recall six of the School Board’s nine representatives, alleging they were members of the group “Anti-Racist Parents.”

“When you go out and label the very people who are putting their children in your care as [racist], it certainly raises concerns … that the school is instructing its teachers in this kind of behavior and that the teacher who said that really has no place instructing students on how to think independently,” Loudoun Parents for Education spokesman Ian Prior told the Times-Mirror on Tuesday.

The P.A.C.T. website describes CRT in stark terms, saying the framework labels “all white people [as] oppressors and all minorities [as] oppressed,” demands that “white people must recognize their White Privilege/Whiteness” and asserts that racism “is present in every aspect of life.”

Scholars, however, define critical race theory as the understanding that race is “socially constructed and socially significant,” that “racism is a normal feature of society and is embedded within systems and institutions,” according to the American Bar Association.

A screenshot from a source close to the matter shows that a member of “Anti-Racist Parents of Loudoun County” posted to the group last month and called for other members to “combat the anti-CRT activities of P.A.C.T. folks,” listing specific actions to be taken.

Among those proposed actions was the creation of fake online profiles to “infiltrate” P.A.C.T and similar groups, as well as the employment of “hackers” who could shut down the P.A.C.T. website “or redirect [visitors] to pro-CRT/anti-racist” sites.

The Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office confirmed to the Times-Mirror that it is investigating the episode, but provided no further details. The “Anti-Racist Parents of Loudoun County” group has since been deleted from Facebook.

The six representatives Loudoun Parents for Education are campaigning to recall — all of whom are backed by the Loundoun County Democratic Committee — are Chairwoman Brenda Sheridan (Sterling District), Vice Chairwoman Atoosa Reaser (Algonkian District), Beth Barts (Leesburg District), Denise Corbo (At-Large), Leslee King (Broad Run) and Ian Serotkin (Blue Ridge District).

A screenshot of a Facebook post shows that Barts, who often communicates with her constituents through her Facebook group “Leesburg Outreach Group,” posted to “Anti-Racist Parents,” saying she was “very concerned that [P.A.C.T.] is gaining support.”

She later posted to “Leesburg Outreach Group” on March 18, saying she would “not apologize for advocating the need to call out misinformation and misrepresentation of our policies and plans to end systemic racism in our schools.”

“I have and will continue to state loudly and clearly that LCPS is not teaching Critical Race Theory,” she wrote.

No members of the Loudoun County School Board accepted the Times-Mirror’s requests for direct comment.

Ziegler has also released multiple statements defending the school system’s equity-related priorities and has continually asserted that LCPS has not adopted critical race theory in its staff training or student curriculum.

In a March 19 prepared statement titled “Rumors Concerning LCPS Equity Work,” Ziegler explained the school system’s “Culturally Responsive Framework,” saying it “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.”

He said in that same statement that LCPS “does not condone anyone targeting members of the community,” such as the list “Anti-Racist Parents of Loudoun County” is accused of circulating.

The “Culturally Responsive Framework” was drafted in June 2020 in response to a series of race-related controversies in LCPS during the previous year, which also resulted in the introduction of the school system’s “Action Plan to Combat Systemic Racism,” as well as a 2019 discrimination investigation by the Virginia Office of the Attorney General.

Those controversies included allegations of discriminatory practices relating to the Academies of Loudoun admissions process, as well as numerous reports of racial slurs being used in the classroom.

While Ziegler said the “Culturally Responsive Framework” aligns with guidance from the Commonwealth of Virginia and the Virginia Department of Education, Prior refuted that, saying the framework is “ultimately critical race theory executed at the educational level.”

Prior said a Sept. 4, 2020 email to Sheridan and former LCPS Superintendent Eric Williams from Keaira Jennings — who chairs the LCPS Minority Student Achievement Advisory Committee (MSAAC) — stoked further concern among his peers.

Jennings’ email allegedly said Loudoun teachers who responded negatively to the school system’s equity training “do not need to be in classrooms any longer.”

MSAAC also posted a call to action on Facebook on March 26, saying, “we can and will silence the opposition.” MSAAC removed the post and issued an apology the next day following backlash.

“There seems to be a culture of bullying that is being fomented in the school system itself where — because people may oppose a particular doctrine or dogma that we believe [LCPS] is engaging in … it results not in constructive communication with parents, but rather things like making lists and calling people that may have a different point of view ‘racist’ or ‘fascist’ or ‘sexist’ or whatever the term is,” Prior said.

In the near future, Prior said he and other members of Loudoun Parents for Education would like for Ziegler and the School Board to host an open town hall in which parents can receive direct responses to their equity-related concerns, in contrast to the unidirectional format of the public comment section at board meetings.

“It’s great to go and make yourself heard at the School Board [or] the Equity Committee, but we don’t get answers,” Prior said.

“If they believe that [the “Culturally Responsive Framework”] is the way forward, then they should be able to answer the tough questions from the community that they represent,” he said.

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