By Nicquel Terry Ellis and Boris Sanchez, CNN
A Virginia school district is under fire after chaos erupted during public comment at a school board meeting earlier this week over a proposed transgender policy and claims that critical race theory is being taught in the classroom.
The turmoil ended with one person being arrested and charged with disorderly conduct and resisting arrest and another was cited for trespassing.
The Loudoun County Public Schools meeting, which included an agenda item to discuss a new transgender policy, attracted a large crowd of parents and community members who chanted “shame on you” and protested throughout the meeting.
School officials say 251 people had signed up for public comment.
While critical race theory was not on the agenda, parents and community members accused the school district of requiring teachers to take a diversity training that discusses the concept and then teaching it to students. They also criticized the school board for proposing a policy that would allow gender-expansive or transgender students to use their chosen name and gender pronouns and use the restroom that corresponds with their asserted gender identity.
The controversy has put Loudoun County Public Schools in the national spotlight and comes as a growing list of states propose legislative bans against teaching critical race theory in public schools. Critical race theory centers on the idea that systemic racism is part of American society and that institutions function to give White people dominance in society. The divisions in Loudoun also come as the US Department of Education and more states issue guidance for protections under the law for LGBTQ students.
‘Misconceptions and misinformation’
Since Tuesday, Loudoun County Schools officials have defended the district saying critical race theory is not part of the curriculum.
Interim Superintendent Scott Ziegler said “misconceptions and misinformation” in the media were distorting the equity work being done in the school district. Ziegler said in a statement that the district had hired an independent firm, The Equity Collaborative, to help improve its learning environment. The firm recommended professional development for staff members to help them recognize the “social and cultural differences in our diverse student body,” Ziegler said. Part of the training required staff to examine how their own personal biases might affect how they treat students.
“LCPS’ work on equity is a journey that requires the commitment of staff at all levels,” Ziegler said. “I feel the staffs’ work, which has been sustained, honest and undertaken in good faith, has been misrepresented recently by some members of the public.”
Loudoun County school board chair Brenda Sheridan told CNN’s Don Lemon that she believes her school district has become the center of a misinformation campaign around critical race theory.
“I believe that Loudoun County in particular in our school system is being used as a hub have to promote these falsehoods,” Sheridan said. “And it is unfortunate because we are a stellar school system, we are one of the top school systems in the country. And we are being promoted as something we are not.”
But community members and parents insist that teachers are being trained on critical race theory and forced to teach it to students.
Ian Prior, executive director of Fight for Schools, told CNN that members of the school board are in a private Facebook group promoting critical race theory and seek to target parents who oppose it.
“Now when you see it bleed down into the school system and into the teaching, you have lessons where they’re talking about White fragility, White privilege microaggressions racist centralism, as early as second grade,” Prior said.
Transgender policy challenged
Retired Republican Sen. Dick Black was among those who blasted the board at the meeting. Black claimed the board was looking to punish opponents of critical race theory.
“You’re teaching children to hate others because of their skin color, and you’re forcing them to lie about other kids’ gender,” Black said. “I am disgusted by your bigotry and your depravity.”
Black also challenged the transgender policy saying “it’s absurd and immoral for teachers to call boys girls and girls boys.”
This isn’t the first time transgender policy has been a contentious issue for Loudoun County Public Schools. Earlier this month, a Virginia judge ruled that the district had to reinstate physical education teacher Tanner Cross who was suspended for refusing to address transgender students by their preferred pronoun.
Cross had argued that because of his Christian faith, it would be dishonest to call a child by a pronoun other than their biological sex at birth.
According to CNN affiliate WJLA, the school district has appealed the judge’s decision.
District spokesman Wayde Byard said the proposed transgender policy is consistent with the Virginia Department of Education’s model policies for the treatment of transgender students.
Byard said the policy will likely be revisited at another school board meeting this summer.
In an interview with WJLA, Loudoun schools parent Cris Candice Tuck expressed confidence that the school district would implement the new transgender policy.
“This is shameful,” Tuck said. “At the end of the day, we are very hopeful the school board is going to continue to do what’s right for our children, protect transgender children.”
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Mallory Thompson and Rebekah Riess contributed to the report.