By Chris Seaman, Director, Albemarle Parents Promoting Learning, Inc. (APPL)
One of the most important races this fall is one you probably haven’t heard about. School board races in Virginia were previously sleepy affairs, focusing on local issues and attracting little attention. Candidates usually put up a handful of yard signs, set up a Facebook page, and maybe spoke in a public forum sponsored by a local PTO.
That all changed, however, with Governor Youngkin’s election in 2021. Harnessing a right-wing backlash to equity and inclusion measures and COVID-19 mitigation strategies in public schools, Youngkin won a narrow victory. Immediately after taking office, the Youngkin administration launched an assault on public education by attempting to censor and intimidate teachers through a “snitch” line, whitewashing history by purporting to ban so-called “divisive concepts” and deleting material on Black, brown, and indigenous persons from state history standards, and by shortchanging investment in our schools, including a $200 million funding error that ultimately led to the state school superintendent’s resignation. GOP-led local school boards have followed Youngkin’s lead by banning books written by minority and LGBTQIA+ authors, removing the names of black leaders from public school buildings, appointing unqualified school superintendents, and even threatening to close school libraries.
Attempting to build on these gains, the right-wing has launched a concerted campaign to politicize public education across the Commonwealth by taking over local school boards in this fall’s election. Through a network of organizations funded by dark money, far-right extremists are running on an agenda of banning books, discriminating against transgender students, censoring teachers, and whitewashing history. Youngkin and the Virginia GOP are vocally supporting these efforts, including appearing at a training session for conservative school board candidates and launching false attacks against sitting board members.
This extends to my home in Albemarle County, which surrounds Charlottesville. Albemarle County Public Schools (ACPS) have been one of the most progressive in the state when it comes to equity and inclusion, adopting a student-initiated antiracism policy in 2019 and prohibiting discrimination against transgender and non-binary students. Unfortunately, this has triggered a right-wing backlash, including multiple lawsuits brought by the far-right Alliance Defending Freedom (which has been designated as a hate group) and now a heated election that threatens to undo these important gains.
Meg Scalia Bryce, the youngest daughter of Justice Antonin Scalia, is running for the at-large seat on the Albemarle County School Board. The apple didn’t fall far from the tree in her case. Scalia Bryce has vocally opposed ACPS’s antiracism policy, criticized legal protections for LGBTQIA+ students, and praised vouchers that would divert taxpayer funds to private and parochial schools. Scalia Bryce is supported by right-wing donors, including a former Youngkin appointee who spewed false narratives about the Civil War (including comparing Abraham Lincoln to Vladimir Putin), and another donor who publicly made bigoted comments about Muslims. Scalia Bryce personally donated to Republicans, and she publicly appeared at the White House with Donald Trump in 2019. Notably, Scalia Bryce is running for the Albemarle County School Board even though she pulled her own children out of public schools for ideological reasons.
Fortunately, there is a terrific progressive candidate in the race as well: Allison Spillman. Allison is a mother of five kids in public schools, a former PTO vice president, and leader of a local nonprofit organization dedicated to helping families of kids with disabilities navigate adoption and foster care (Allison’s youngest two children are adopted). Allison is pro-public education, pro-union, and a strong proponent of protecting and affirming LGBTQIA+ children (one of her own children proudly and openly identifies as a member of the LGBTQIA+ community). Allison has been endorsed by the Albemarle County Democratic Party and the Albemarle Education Association. She is running a grassroots campaign backed by hundreds of local volunteers and donors.
This hard-fought contest may well come down to financial resources. Meg Scalia Bryce has raised a record amount for a local school board race, and one of the highest in the state. I am the director of a local organization of parents fighting for excellence, equity, and inclusion in our local public schools. I hope you will support our effort to get the word out about Meg Scalia Bryce’s extremism to Albemarle County voters by donating to our ActBlue page here: https://secure.actblue.com/donate/appl.