Virginia parents, GOP lawmakers vow national push for ‘parents’ rights’ in public schools

By: - November 16, 2021 5:16 pm

U.S. Rep. Virginia Foxx, a North Carolina Republican, speaks at a small rally near the U.S. Capitol Tuesday hosted by the conservative Independent Women’s Network. (Ariana Figueroa/ States Newsroom D.C. Bureau)

WASHINGTON —Republican lawmakers and Virginia parents trying to capitalize on their success in the November election gathered across from the U.S. Capitol on Tuesday to voice opposition to mask mandates and lessons about racism.

The ranking Republican on the U.S. House Education and Labor Committee, Virginia Foxx of North Carolina, told the small crowd of about a dozen participants that the GOP would continue to push for parental rights in the classroom across the U.S., as crucial midterm elections loom in 2022.

Virginia’s election for governor proved that parents want to have more say in what their children are taught in the classroom, Foxx said.

“We’re ready for a new era in education,” Foxx said. “Other people now know what I’ve known for a long time—parents are a force to be reckoned with.”

Participants in the rally, hosted by the conservative Independent Women’s Network, also said they oppose universal pre-K and child care provisions in President Joe Biden’s social safety net package that Congress is set to vote on later this week. They argued that the government is getting too involved in child care.

IWN, a non-profit, is a branch of the Independent Woman’s Forum, which has received funding from the Koch network and pushes conservative and libertarian policies.

The network’s platform offers monthly paid subscriptions at three levels that include chat rooms, workshops, “special events with high profile lawmakers” and more. “Fight for parents’ rights,” it urges.

The rally follows Virginia’s election for governor, where Republican Glenn Youngkin successfully seized on parental fears about critical race theory—an academic level of research that studies the way racism is embedded into the legal system and is not taught in K-12 schools—and promised to overhaul the state’s education system.  Critical race theoryhas informed many elements of anti-racist activism and the push for greater educational equity.

Youngkin, who vowed to give more control to parents, also objected to books in public school libraries by Nobel Prize winner Toni Morrison.

The Washington Post reported that his approach “energized” white evangelical voters and gave him a higher percentage of their votes than Donald Trump in 2020.

Rep. Vicky Hartzler, (R-Mo.), warned that the Virginia election is “just a foreshadow of what we’re gonna see next year” in midterm congressional races.

“We’re going to take back our country, and we’re going to take back our schools for our kids,” she said.

Parents object to the teaching of race in public schools because “children are vulnerable to this radical thinking,” Rep. Diana Harshbarger, (R-Tenn.), who is also a member of the Education and Labor committee, said.

“This manipulates their precious little minds,” she said.

After the massive social justice protests during the summer of 2020 following the police killing of George Floyd, coupled with the New York Times publication of the 1619 Project, schools have moved to incorporate teaching about slavery and race in the classroom.

Julie Gunlock, a parent from Northern Virginia and the director of IWN and IWF’s Center for Progress and Innovation, told the group that the rally was just the beginning of a mission that members plan to expand across the country to challenge the government’s role in public schools. None of Gunlock’s children are in public schools, as two attend a Catholic school and another is homeschooled.

“Not all parents have the ability to make these changes and embrace these opportunities, which is why I’m fighting for public schools,” she said. “I’m here to send a message to the government that I am in charge of my kids, and it’s time that they took a seat and stayed in their lane.”

Stacy Langton, a Fairfax, Virginia, parent, said to the group of supporters she discovered an inappropriate book in the public library at her son’s school. Four of her kids are in Catholic schools and two attend Fairfax County Public Schools.

The Associated Press said the school system pulled two books from circulation pending review.

“Pornography in the presence of minor children is illegal,” she said. “And it shouldn’t have been in the library in the first place.”

Langton said she has been attacked by the LGBTQ community and said that she is part of that community because her mother, who died five years ago, came out as a lesbian.

“The biggest criticism of my action in coming forward to expose this has come from the LGBT community, they are saying that I am anti-gay,” she said. “I am the adult child of a gay parent. So I was actually raised in the gay community. So I am one of them.”

The graphic novel in question is “Gender Queer: a Memoir” which details how the author, who uses pronouns e/em/eir, grew up after being assigned the female gender at birth. It contains sexually explicit illustrations that drew objections for parents.

The author, Maia Kobabe, responded to the banning of her book in the Washington Post, arguing that queer kids need to see themselves represented in books.

“Queer youth are often forced to look outside their own homes, and outside the education system, to find information on who they are,” Kobabe wrote. “Removing or restricting queer books in libraries and schools is like cutting a lifeline for queer youth, who might not yet even know what terms to ask Google to find out more about their own identities, bodies and health.”

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Ariana Figueroa
Ariana Figueroa

Ariana covers the nation's capital for States Newsroom. Her areas of coverage include politics and policy, lobbying, elections and campaign finance.