Critical race theory becomes campaign buzzword in Virginia governor's race

Posted at 3:20 PM, Jun 10, 2021
and last updated 2021-06-10 18:21:30-04

NORFOLK, Va. - As campaign 2021 heats up in Virginia, the phrase "critical race theory" has become a buzzword.

"We have to teach our kids how to think, not what to think. Teaching critical race theory in our schools is absolutely something that parents around the Commonwealth have stood up and said no to," said Glenn Youngkin, the Republican nominee for governor in Virginia, in an interview with News 3 on Wednesday.

But what exactly is critical race theory, and is it being taught in schools?

"Critical race theory is not saying a person is racist. It's simply saying that the society was structured through its laws and public policies to favor one group over another," said Dr. Eric Claville, the Director of the African American Public Policy Center at Norfolk State University.

In Virginia Beach, the school system has posted a Q&A on issues related to diversity in schools. They cite a definition of CRT from the American Bar Association as "a practice of interrogating race and racism in society that emerged in the legal academy and spread to other fields of scholarship… It critiques how the social construction of race and institutionalized racism perpetuate a racial caste system that relegates people of color to the bottom tiers."

As for whether it's being in taught in schools, the Virginia Department of Education says specific curriculum is developed at the local level, although standards of learning for history are currently being reviewed and new standards are expected to be adopted next year.

Virginia Beach's website says CRT is not being taught in the city, but the issue has come up recently. School Board member Victoria Manning says the school system sponsored a teacher book study on a book called "The Racial Healing Handbook," which she says promoted CRT.

School Board member Carolyn Weems has proposed passing a resolution saying critical race theory will not be taught.

"We just thought it was important to clarify, to give direction, to our employees and our community so they know what to expect and what we teach," said Weems during a board meeting in May.

The School Board was supposed to vote on the resolution this week, but the vote has been pushed to a later date.

The school website adds, "We strive for all students to receive quality education established in equitable, reflective, and rigorous learning experiences."

Related: Critical race theory debate being had in more states

A school division spokesperson says the school system is currently going through a division wide equity assessment as required in the Equity Policy.

Going forward, Claville expects the issue will continue to gain traction on the campaign trail.

"It has become politicized because now this gives opposition and a wedge issue in order to separate the two sides," he said.