Local educators, parents react to Gov. Youngkin's ban of Critical Race Theory

Posted at 12:20 PM, Jan 18, 2022
and last updated 2022-01-18 18:16:29-05

NORFOLK, Va. - Gov. Glenn Youngkin's first executive order bans "inherently divisive concepts, including Critical Race Theory" from being taught in schools.

Youngkin signed the order shortly after taking office on Saturday.

"I think it's wonderful," said Virginia Beach parent Annie Palumbo, who has been a frequent critic of the Virginia Beach school board over the past year.

"I define [CRT] as basically judging somebody by the color of their skin, telling especially the white children that because they are white they should be ashamed, they should be responsible for any race issues in this country," Palumbo said.

Educational leaders in the city have said CRT is not part of school curriculum.

The American Bar Association defines it 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."

While CRT is a legal and academic term, it's clear it's taken on a broader meaning for some parents around the country and state.

News 3 political and legal analyst Dr. Eric Claville the topic became a wedge issue during the campaign for governor last year.

"Under education, it's freedom of education, freedom to teach your kids what you want them to hear," Claville said.

Portsmouth School Board member Tamara Shewmake doesn't think Youngkin's order is necessary, saying CRT is not taught. Still she says she is receptive to the concerns of parents.

"I take every concern from our parents very seriously. If they do have a concern about what's being taught, how it's being taught, depending on the concern, I always take those concerns to [the superintendent]," Shewmake said.

Youngkin's executive order fulfilled a campaign promise.

"Virginia parents want our history – all of our history, the good and the bad to be taught," he said in an address to the General Assembly on Monday. "They want their children to be told how to think, not what to think. That’s why we should not use inherently divisive concepts like Critical Race Theory in Virginia. And why we should not be teaching our children to see everything through the lens of race."

People who agree with Youngkin do admit CRT is not an actual class, but believe it's a concept that's found its way into the classroom.

"I don't think anyone has ever said CRT 101 is a class in schools, but it has certainly been something the Department of Education as well as some school boards are asking their teachers to understand and put in their lesson plans," said Tim Mack, the president of a group called Students First VA. The grassroots group has been raising concerns about what's being taught in school.

An example that came up in Virginia Beach is when teachers, not students, did a book study on a book called "The Racial Healing Handbook."

"It's being implemented and I like to say like a cancer. It's being implemented in other ways though teacher education, lesson plans, classroom discussions that may or may not be part of the curriculum," said Mack.

Still educators News 3 spoke with were adamant it is not being taught. "I just find this ban on CRT really silly because CRT is not taught in Virginia's public schools. it's a course of study for college students and law students, so it just seems like it's grand standing and red meat for [Youngkin's] base," said Mary Vause, a Newport News teacher and parent.

Youngkin's order says the concepts the Superintendent of Public Instruction identifies would violate provisions of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

Claville predicts the issues will wind up in court. "There are some who are looking at this early on to say if you're looking at the standard set under the provision of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, then there's no way this could stand. There are others who are saying it depends on the way it's interpreted, so we'll see what the court decides," he said.