Fact Check: Is Critical Race Theory Taught in Virginia Schools?

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Throughout election night, as it became clear Republican Glenn Youngkin would win the Virginia governor’s race, numerous left-leaning media commentators insisted that critical race theory isn’t being taught in Virginia public schools. 

Various media personalities—some professing to be on the news side, others on the opinion side—repeated the assertion both before and after the election results came in. 

But a simple Google search would have shown these pundits that public documents from the Virginia Department of Education repeatedly mention the phrase “critical race theory,” as well as produced news stories about teacher training by consulting firms associated with critical race theory. 

Christopher Rufo, a contributor to City Journal and Fox News, is among those who have reported on the documents, as well as on Virginia counties implementing critical race theory into their curricula. 

Critical race theory holds that race is the prism through which all aspects of American life should be analyzed, categorizing individuals into groups of either oppressors or victims of oppression.

MSNBC anchor Nicolle Wallace said Tuesday night: “I think the real ominous thing is that critical race theory, which isn’t real, turned the suburbs 15 points to the Trump insurrection-endorsed Republican.”

From Youngkin’s election night headquarters in Chantilly, Virginia, CNN national politics reporter Eva McKend said: “This issue of critical race theory, even though it is not being taught in Virginia public schools, became so core in this race.” 

MSNBC producer Kyle Griffin tweeted three days before the election: “Virginia Republican Glenn Youngkin is calling to expunge the teaching of Critical Race Theory from Virginia's schools—but the theory isn't mentioned in the state's learning standards and even Loudoun County has said it doesn't teach CRT.”

NewsBusters, a blog published by the conservative watchdog Media Research Center, assembled a montage of media claims about critical race theory and Virginia.  

Numerous MSNBC panelists and hosts made comments along the lines of  “Critical race theory is not taught in Virginia schools.” One reporter with the cable network said that “critical race theory is not taught in Virginia K-12 schools.” An anchor said, “Critical race theory, as we know, is not taught in Virginia schools.” Yet another MSNBC reporter said, “There is no evidence it has been taught in public schools.” 

While appearing on MSNBC, Larry Sabato, a political science professor at the University of Virginia who is a media favorite, said: “This is a postfactual error. It doesn’t matter that it isn’t taught in Virginia schools.” 

Elsewhere, a CBS News reporter said, “The curriculum is not taught in Virginia schools.” 

A CNN anchor, speaking of Youngkin, referred to “what he calls critical race theory, even though it is not taught in Virginia schools.” A CNN reporter said: “A lot of them believe critical race theory is being taught in the classrooms. … It’s really not on the curriculum in Virginia.” 

During his race against Youngkin for Virginia governor, Democrat nominee Terry McAuliffe also repeatedly said that critical race theory is not in the state’s public schools. 

The Facts

In a Twitter thread, Rufo, a writer for City Journal who is active in exposing critical race theory, posted images of Virginia Department of Education documents from 2015 and 2019 promoting critical race theory for use in public schools. 

Fox News reported and linked to the publicly available documents on the Virginia Department of Education’s official website. 

A presentation by the department on Sept. 22, 2015, when McAuliffe was governor, is titled “Legal Implications of School Discipline” and mentions critical race theory three times on pages 22 and 27. 

The presentation specifies: “Incorporate Critical Race Theory (CRT) Lens.” It later lists five “Culturally-Responsive Teaching and Learning Principles,” the first of which is “Embrace Critical Race Theory” and adds, “Engage in race-conscious teaching and learning.”

On Feb. 22, 2019, a memo from James F. Lane, Virginia’s superintendent of public instruction, promoted critical race theory in detail. The memo’s subject line was “Resources to Support Student and Community Dialogues on Racism.” 

“I have received several inquiries and requests for the latest literature that examines the issues associated with racial inequities in education,” Lane wrote in the memo issued under the administration of Gov. Ralph Northam, a Democrat. “Below are several pieces that I and other members of the VDOE staff are reading this month based on recommendations that we have received.”

Lane’s list included “Foundations of Critical Race Theory in Education,” a 2016 book edited by Edward Taylor, David Gillborn, and Gloria Ladson-Billings.

“The emergence of Critical Race Theory (CRT) marked an important point in the history of racial politics in the legal academy and the broader conversation about race and racism in the United States,” the description of the book in Lane’s memo reads. 

“More recently, CRT has proven an important analytic tool in the field of education, offering critical perspectives on race, and the causes, consequences and manifestations of race, racism, inequity, and the dynamics of power and privilege in schooling.”

The 2019 memo continues:

This groundbreaking anthology is the first to pull together both the foundational writings in the field and more recent scholarship on the cultural and racial politics of schooling. A comprehensive introduction provides an overview of the history and tenets of CRT in education. Each section then seeks to explicate ideological contestation of race in education and to create new, alternative accounts. In so doing, this landmark publication not only documents the progress to date of the CRT movement, it acts to further spur developments in education.  

The “What We Are Reading” section of the “Virginia is for Learners” website maintained by the Department of Education, lists the book “We Want to Do More Than Survive: Abolitionist Teaching and the Pursuit of Educational Freedom” by Bettina Love. 

Fox News reported that Love’s book includes this sentence: “Lastly, teachers must embrace theories such as critical race theory, settler colonialism, Black feminism, dis/ability, critical race studies, and other critical theories, that have the ability to interrogate anti-Blackness.”

In September, Fairfax County Public Schools, the school district in Virginia’s most populous county, entered a $2.4 million contract with Panorama Education, a consulting firm known for promoting critical race theory in schools. 

U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland’s son-in-law, Alexander Tanner, is an executive with Panorama Education.

Fox News reported in July that Loudoun County Public Schools, in the adjoining county just outside Washington, paid $34,167 for 55 hours of training for school personnel.

The training included slides about “White Individualism,” “Color Group Collectivism,” and “culturally responsive” teaching. Equity Collaborative, a consulting firm, did the training. 

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