Critical race theory, mask mandates dominate 2021 school board elections — is 2022 next?

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

Dozens of races across the country Tuesday amounted to a tug-of-war over education policies, from school mask requirements to history curricula. While conservatives capitalized on education culture wars to win the highest-profile election, for Virginia's next governor, results in other contests were mixed.

Races in 76 school districts across 22 states featured candidates who took a stance on race in education or critical race theory, according to Ballotpedia, a political tracking website. Critical race theory, a graduate-level law school concept that examines systemic racism, is seldom taught in schools. It has nevertheless inflamed conservatives, previewing a valuable political tool for Republicans in the 2022 midterm elections.

Critical race theory, DEI: What do those terms really mean?

Conservatives campaigning against critical race theory secured school board seats in several suburbs across the country, from Douglas County, Colorado, to Southlake, Texas. In Virginia’s razor-tight governor’s race, Republican Glenn Youngkin ran on a platform touting parental control of schools and attacking progressive-led initiatives designed to make schools more inclusive. Youngkin secured a victory Tuesday night with 50.7% of the vote, a major upset for Democrats in a state where President Joe Biden won by 10 percentage points last year.

School board culture wars: Is students' well-being at risk?

“Youngkin’s victory will send shockwaves nationwide – parents across the country are speaking up because they want more leverage and better options for their children,” Carrie Lukas, vice president of the conservative 501(c)(4) nonprofit Independent Women’s Voice, said in a statement. “They want school systems that remember that they work for parents and children, not for activist bureaucracies. And they want schools that educate, rather than indoctrinate.”

Republican gubernatorial candidate Glenn Youngkin greets supporters at a rally in Chesterfield, Va., on Nov. 1. Youngkin defeated Democrat Terry McAuliffe, a former Virginia governor, in Tuesday's vote.
Republican gubernatorial candidate Glenn Youngkin greets supporters at a rally in Chesterfield, Va., on Nov. 1. Youngkin defeated Democrat Terry McAuliffe, a former Virginia governor, in Tuesday's vote.

Much of the race in recent weeks centered on Loudoun County, whose school board has been embroiled in controversies since its passage of various diversity and inclusion initiatives, including a policy allowing transgender students to use the bathroom associated with their gender identity. That policy became a rallying issue after reports of two sexual assaults at Loudoun schools, one of which occurred in a bathroom. (The perpetrator in that case, whose gender identity hasn’t been confirmed by authorities, was recently found guilty in the case; the incident occurred before the gender-inclusive policy took effect.)

But Loudoun County still voted for Youngkin’s Democratic opponent, Terry McAuliffe, by double digits. And elsewhere, many candidates who fought COVID-19 restrictions and anti-racism classes lost their election bids Tuesday, including several who waged high-profile campaigns in Wisconsin, Minnesota and Connecticut.

In Wisconsin, an effort to recall members of the Mequon-Thiensville school board accused of promoting critical race theory failed. Each of the incumbents won more than 58% of the votes in their races, according to unofficial results posted by the district Tuesday.

Teaching kids to hate America? Republicans want ‘critical race theory’ out of schools

Still, victories for conservatives elsewhere suggest critical race theory will continue to dominate political debate, especially in swing states or tight congressional races.

In Pennsylvania, four of the six open school board seats in the Central York School District went to Republicans, according to unofficial but final results. The margins in the race were thin, illustrating just how fraught debates over anti-racism school initiatives have become. This fall, the district lifted almost yearlong "freeze" on anti-racism books and resources with diverse perspectives.

Beyond the school culture wars: Students say their well-being is at risk.

In a Dallas-area district, critical race theory was the genesis of an all-out fight this spring. Shortly after a TikTok video showing a group of white teens shouting racial slurs went viral, the Carroll Independent School District created a diversity council and an action plan to make sure its classrooms were actively anti-racist.

But Tuesday night, Andrew Yeager, an outspoken critic of that diversity plan, handily won a school board seat, beating his opponent, a former teacher, by more than 30 percentage points.

Yeager’s victory follows a spring win for two other conservative school board candidates who opposed the diversity plan. According to NBC News, all three candidates were supported financially by Southlake Families PAC, a group that describes itself as “unapologetically rooted in Judeo-Christian values” and was formed specifically in response to the diversity plan.

“The results are in, and I’m humbled to have earned your confidence and your trust,” said Yeager, a TV executive, in a Facebook post. “As your next CISD School Board Trustee, I will always work for the best interests of our students, promote transparency in leadership and policies, and work toward responsible financial management.”

Conservatives have already gained power at these school districts: Here's what happened next.

Critical race theory ban? Schools can teach full US history, experts say. Here's how.

Contributing: The Associated Press

Contact Alia Wong at (202) 507-2256 or Follow her on Twitter at @aliaemily.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: School board races show mixed results for critical race theory