Stand up for the facts!

Misinformation isn't going away just because it's a new year. Support trusted, factual information with a tax deductible contribution to PolitiFact.

More Info

I would like to contribute

Warren Fiske
By Warren Fiske August 10, 2021

Youngkin offers little proof critical race theory is in 'all' Virginia schools

If Your Time is short

  • Critical race theory is not mentioned in Virginia's Standards of Learning.
  • A growing number of local schools districts say they don't teach critical race theory.
  • Youngkin's evidence shows the theory is being discussed by state educators, not that its being widely taught.

Republican gubernatorial nominee Glenn Youngkin says critical race theory has become pervasive in Virginia schools and must be expunged. 

"We actually have this critical race theory moved into all of our schools in Virginia," he said during a July 9 campaign speech in rural Wytheville.

"We’re actually watching this critical race theory move its way into all schools across Virginia," he told conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt on July 23.

"Critical race theory has moved into our school system and we have to remove it," he told Fox News on Aug. 5.

Critical race theory — a broad set of ideas about systemic bias and privilege — has become a political flashpoint across the nation. It holds that racism is part of a broader pattern in America: It is woven into laws, and it shows up in who gets a job interview, the sort of home loans people are offered, how they are treated by police, and other facets of daily life large and small.

There is a movement by some educators to incorporate critical race theory into instruction, particularly in U.S. history which they say has been taught from a white vantage point. 

A central complaint of critical race theory is that, because it focuses on race, the approach is itself racist. Critics say it presents solely a negative picture of the United States and is designed to make students feel bad about their country. At least 12 states have banned critical race theory teaching, and bills barring such instruction have been introduced in at least 15 states.

The Virginia General Assembly has not considered a bill to ban critical race theory from schools. But the topic has roused emotions in a number of localities and become a key issue in Youngkin’s campaign. 

So we fact-checked his claim that "critical race theory has moved into all our schools in Virginia," and found it to be highly exaggerated.

Is critical race theory taught throughout Virginia? 

Critical race theory is not mentioned in Virginia’s Standards of Learning, which set baselines of knowledge students are expected to master in different grades and subjects.

Although the standards are set by the state Board of Education, local school systems set the teaching curricula to reach those goals. So there is no statewide count of how many schools teach critical race theory. There’s no specific definition of critical race theory curricula that would allow an objective count.

Contrary to Youngkin’s statement, however, a number of localities have issued statements saying they do not teach critical race theory. Here’s a sampling:

Youngkin’s proof

We asked Youngkin’s campaign to back up his statement that critical race theory has "moved into all of our schools in Virginia." Only a smattering of the evidence it offered pointed to individual school systems or schools. Most of it shows that Virginia educators have discussed — but not endorsed — the theory at seminars and have been encouraged to read about it. 

The Virginia Department of Education holds an annual two-day seminar on improving equity in schools. Equity, as defined by the department, is not a teaching theory. It’s "a commitment to eliminating the predictability of student outcomes based on race, gender, ZIP code, ability, socio-economic status, and/or languages spoken at home," said Ken Blackstone, executive communications director. The goal, in simple terms, is to make schools more "welcoming" and ensure fair policies.

Youngkin’s campaign says critical race theory has been promoted at these conferences. It notes that:

  • In 2015, there was a presentation on critical race theory at a two-day conference on improving school disciplinary practices in Virginia. Brenda L. Walker, an education professor at the University of Central Florida, urged educators to "embrace critical race theory" among other recommendations.

  • Gov. Ralph Northam, in closing remarks at the 2020 conference, said Virginia needs to "build anti-racist school communities."

Here’s the other evidence cited by Youngkin’s campaign:

  • The Virginia Department of Education has a web page titled "Anti-racism in Education." It cites the book "How to be an Antiracist," by Ibram X. Kendi, a professor at Boston College and advocate of critical race theory.

  • The same book was recommended to local superintendents in a February 2019 memo by State Superintendent of Public Instruction James Lane. He sent a list of resources to help the local leaders achieve "the ultimate goal of enhancing a climate that is welcoming, socially supportive, just, caring, nurturing, and respectful for all students, families, and school personnel." 

  • A Fox News report on July 2, which falsely stated that Loudoun County public schools "spent $34K on critical race theory coaching for administrators." In fact, receipts show the school system spent $34,167 on equity training in 2020, with $3,125 going to "coaching support" for leaders in critical race theory.

  • A video of Beth Barts, a Loudoun school board member, saying that critical race theory probably influences the county’s equity efforts. "While we are not teaching critical race theory necessarily in classrooms, I will say probably that there are portions of critical race theory that we may be applying when we give the lens to look at some of our policies," she said at a June 1 board meeting.

  • A July 23, 2020, memo from Amanda Voelker, principal of James River High School in Chesterfield County. Voelker promised to promote "a culture of inclusion that supports students of all backgrounds." As Younkin’s campaign notes, she attached an article by Ohio-based educator Jamilah Pitts that urges teachers to let students "apply critical lenses, such as critical race theory and Marxist theory, to the reading of news articles to allow students to think more deeply about who is being most affected and why."

  • A Sept, 6, 2020, tweet by John Cosimano, vice principal of Green Run High School in Virginia Beach, supporting The 1619 Project to improve teaching about the consequences of slavery and the contribution of African-Americans to U.S. history.

Department of Education response

Blackstone, the Education Department’s executive spokesman, emphasized that critical race theory is not mentioned in Virginia’s learning standards. He said opponents of the theory sometimes conflate teaching it with the state’s goals of ensuring racial equity in school policies.

"Simply put, to equate all the VDOE’s educational equity work with critical race theory is inaccurate and unfair," he wrote in an email.

Blackstone said that discussion of critical race theory at seminars does not mean the department embraces it.

"Outside resources referenced by the department, and speakers selected for department-sponsored conferences and workshops represent a variety of viewpoints, and the inclusion of a particular author or speaker who is not a VDOE employee does not necessarily represent a department endorsement of all expressed views and opinions," he wrote.

Our ruling

Youngkin said, "We actually have this critical race theory moved into all our schools in Virginia."

Critical race theory is being widely discussed by educators across Virginia. But there's a difference between educators learning about the theory and actually teaching it to students. On that front, Youngkin cites a collection of memos and seminars, but no evidence that critical race theory is being taught in each of the state’s 1,825 public schools.

Critical race theory is not mentioned in the state’s Standards of Learning. A growing list of localities say they do not teach it. 

We rate Youngkin’s statement False.

 

Our Sources

Glenn Youngkin, Wytheville speech, July 9, 2021.

Youngkin, Fox News interview, Aug. 5, 2021.

Youngkin, Interview on the Hugh Hewitt Show, July 23, 2021 (30:15 mark).

Email from Matthew Wolking, spokesman for Youngkin campaign, Aug. 3, 2021.

Email from Charles Pyle, communications director for Virginia Department of Education," July 27, 2021.

Email from Ken Blackstone, executive director of communications for Virginia Department of Education, " Aug. 6, 2021.

PolitiFact, "What is critical race theory, and why are conservatives blocking it?," May 24, 2021.

Brookings, "Why are states banning critical race theory?" July 2021.

Virginia Beach public schools, FAQ, accessed July 7, 2021.

Colonial Heights Public Schools, Statement, July 23, 2021.

Richmond Times-Dispatch, "Williams: In Hanover County and America, fake problems thwart real solutions," May 14, 2021.

Gloucester-Mathews Gazette Journal, "Gloucester not teaching Critical Race Theory," July 14, 2021.

The News and Advance, "Campbell school officials say CRT not taught, and policies won't change regarding transgender students," July 20, 2021. 

SWVA Today, "Tazewell County Schools to be open five days a week in the fall," June 12, 2021.

The Washington Post, "Top Loudoun school officials defend equity work against charges of ‘critical race theory,’" July 2, 2021.

Chesterfield Observer, "School Board chair: Critical race theory isn’t part of CCPS curriculum," June 8, 2021.

12 On Your Side, "Residents share concerns about critical race theory during tense school board meeting," July 14, 2021.

Brenda L. Walker, Legal Implications of School Discipline, Sept. 22, 2015.

Gov. Ralph Northam, Closing remarks at equity conference, Aug. 24, 2020.

Virginia Department of Education, 2021 Equity Conference, June 15-16, 2021.

VDOE, "What We Are Reading," accessed Aug. 9, 2021.

VDOE, "Anti-racism in Education," accessed Aug. 9, 2021.

Ibram X. Kendi, "There is no debate over critical race theory," July 9, 2021.

James Lane, Memo to division superintendents, Feb. 22, 2019.

Fox News, "Virginia district spent $34K on critical race theory coaching for administrators, documents show," July 2, 2021.

Beth Barts, comments at Loudoun County School Board meeting, June 1, 2021.

Amanda Voelker, Memo, July 23, 2020.

Jamilah Pitts, "Teaching as Activism, Teaching as Care," May 15, 2020.

John Cosimano, Tweet, Sept. 6, 2020.

 

Browse the Truth-O-Meter

More by Warren Fiske

Youngkin offers little proof critical race theory is in 'all' Virginia schools

Support independent fact-checking.
Become a member!

In a world of wild talk and fake news, help us stand up for the facts.

Sign me up