Education blunder igniting suburban parents driving McAuliffe panic in Virginia

Education blunder igniting suburban parents driving McAuliffe panic in Virginia
© Julia Nikhinson

In a Virginia gubernatorial debate on Sept. 29 with Republican opponent Glenn YoungkinGlenn YoungkinWinsome Sears to begin historic new chapter as Virginia lt. governor Five issues that will define the months until the midterms  Five reasons for Biden, GOP to be thankful this season MORE, Democratic nominee and former governor Terry McAuliffeTerry McAuliffeDemocrats anxious over Abrams silence on Georgia governor bid Winsome Sears to begin historic new chapter as Virginia lt. governor Five issues that will define the months until the midterms  MORE declared: “I don’t think parents should be telling schools what they should teach."` 

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Those 10 words – deserving of a top listing in the Hall of Fame of Political Blunders – may prove to be the turning point in a race in which McAuliffe was expected to cruise to victory, especially since Joe Biden won the blue state by more than 10 points on his way to the presidency in 2020. 

Here’s how some media covered it:

CNN – “Virginia Republicans seize on parental rights and schools fight in final weeks of campaign"

Washington Examiner – "McAuliffe says parents shouldn’t tell schools what to teach, handing Youngkin a campaign ad"

Washington Post – "Is this Terry McAuliffe’s last hurrah?"

Recent polls show all the trends going in Youngkin's direction, particularly among parents who (at least in some instances) might have sat out this off-year election if not for McAuliffe telling them their input isn't welcome when it comes to the education of their own children. 

 

Couple that gift-wrapped campaign ad for Youngkin with the suddenly-toxic Democratic president sinking to 41 percent approval among Virginians in a recent USA Today/Suffolk poll, and you have a toss-up as to who will be Virginia's next governor. In a related story, two-thirds of Virginia voters feel the country is on the “wrong track.” Translation: The president's coattails are nonexistent in the state and may even be a net-negative to Democrats on the state’s ballots.  

No matter: McAuliffe invited President BidenJoe BidenDearborn office of Rep. Debbie Dingell vandalized Pfizer to apply for COVID-19 booster approval for 16- and 17-year-olds: report Coronavirus variant raises fresh concerns for economy MORE to campaign for him on Tuesday night. And, given that the president has almost nothing going for him on the economy, inflation, the nation’s supply chains, the border, urban crime or Afghanistan, Biden talked about the one person who was the primary driver behind his own election victory a year ago: Donald TrumpDonald TrumpPence: Supreme Court has chance to right 'historic wrong' with abortion ruling Prosecutor says during trial that actor Jussie Smollett staged 'fake hate crime' Overnight Defense & National Security — US, Iran return to negotiating table MORE

In all, Biden uttered Trump's name 24 times during his pitch for McAuliffe in a relatively short speech — 24 times. Because that's all Democrats have at this point, just 10 months into this administration. 

Regardless, it is refreshing to finally see a political race (at least on one side of it) that is focused less on personalities and more on important issues that impact voters directly, particularly pertaining to education. Think back to the 2016 and 2020 presidential elections. How many times did the education platforms of Trump or Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonCountering the ongoing Republican delusion Republicans seem set to win the midterms — unless they defeat themselves Poll: Democracy is under attack, and more violence may be the future MORE or Biden dominate even a single news cycle during the long slogs of their campaigns? The answer is the same number one gets when multiplying any number by zero. 

Heading into November 2020, for example, Gallup released a poll showing the 16 most important issues to American voters. Education finished fifth. 

 

But what once was a boring (for lack of a better word) topic for the media to cover has now become hot, at least in some circles of the industry. And at the center of it all is Loudoun County, Va., which came to a boiling point after the father of a 14-year-old student, who claimed she was assaulted by a boy wearing a skirt in a transgender bathroom, was arrested for the crime of bringing his concerns to a school board meeting.  

"I did not intend to speak and did not sign up to speak at the meeting, but I was very concerned about what the school board was considering, especially as it pertains to the safety of not only my daughter but also the children of other parents as well," explained that father, Scott Smith, 48. "When the school board abruptly ended the meeting, I was confronted and taunted by activists supporting the school board’s bathroom policy. Despite being subjected to this unprovoked confrontation, I was unreasonably restrained by law enforcement, completely violating my constitutional rights.”

"While some in the media have tried to impugn my character, I am not a domestic terrorist," he added. "I am a concerned father who loves his family and will protect them at every turn.”

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Smith’s concern was understandable due to the actions of Superintendent Scott Ziegler. Per local ABC affiliate WJLA in Washington, D.C.:

"A bombshell this week out of Loudoun County Public Schools: After Superintendent Scott Ziegler said in a school board meeting in June he had no knowledge of any sexual assaults in school bathrooms, a just-released email appears he did," the report reads.

“The email was sent to school board members on the same day of the assault in May. It says a female student alleged that a male student sexually assaulted her in a restroom. Earlier this week, Ziegler said at the board meeting in June he answered no when asked if any assaults had happened because he wrongly interpreted the question and apologized," it adds. 

Earlier this week, a ruling by a Loudoun County juvenile court judge ruled that a sexual assault had taken place. The teenager who had been accused was charged with sexual battery in the first case, and also in that of another teen female student at Broad Run High School. The second incident occurred Oct. 6.

A student walkout at Broad Run High School followed the next day over school safety, further highlighting the issue. 

 

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All these events reflect poorly on school boards in the state. Poorly on teacher unions. And poorly on Terry McAuliffe, who sides with the first two against the state’s parents.  

And he's paying for that.  

McAuliffe may still win, of course. But if he does go down on Nov. 2, it's likely to be a preview of the red tsunami coming in the 2022 midterms, which would further upend Biden's domestic agenda.  

Joe Concha is a media and politics columnist for The Hill.