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In a file photo from Sept. 13, 2016 , students at Oakridge Elementary School in Arlington, Va., attend the fourth grade class of Kimberly Coleman-Mitchell. (AP) In a file photo from Sept. 13, 2016 , students at Oakridge Elementary School in Arlington, Va., attend the fourth grade class of Kimberly Coleman-Mitchell. (AP)

In a file photo from Sept. 13, 2016 , students at Oakridge Elementary School in Arlington, Va., attend the fourth grade class of Kimberly Coleman-Mitchell. (AP)

Gabrielle Settles
By Gabrielle Settles November 16, 2021

Critical race theory isn’t in Virginia’s curriculum

If Your Time is short

  • Critical race theory is not mentioned in the Virginia Department of Education’s curriculum.

  • Scott cited information from the agency as evidence that it is teaching critical race theory, but the documents he referenced were created as suggested reading and training material for educators, not students. 

In a Nov. 8 CNN interview, Florida Republican Sen. Rick Scott claimed that critical race theory was being used in Virginia schools.

Scott said that despite denials from Democrats like former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, "parents know their kids are being indoctrinated with critical race theory in Virginia." 

When CNN anchor Brianna Keilar challenged Scott, the senator pulled out some notes and read aloud: "In 2015, when Terry McAuliffe was governor, the Virginia Department of Education promoted incorporating critical race theory lens in education. You can still find it on the Department of Education's website." 

Scott further said that a 2019 memo written by Virginia Superintendent of Public Instruction James Lane promoted critical race theory and the idea of white fragility.

"It’s not a part of the curriculum," Keilar retorted before Scott interrupted her.

"Brianna, wait a minute. Let’s all agree. They were trying to indoctrinate kids. Terry McAuliffe denied it. It’s still on the website. This is happening," Scott said. 

We fact-checked a related claim from Virginia’s Gov.-elect Glenn Youngkin that "critical race theory moved into all our schools" and rated it False. When we reached out to Scott for evidence behind his claim, his office sent us a 2015 slide presentation and a copy of Lane’s memo, as well as a Virginia Department of Education webpage with a list of books.

We read through that information and reached out to both the Department of Education and to the author of the slide presentation. We found that the state was focused on trying to combat racism in disciplinary procedures and increase awareness of the social and emotional needs of students affected by news that several state leaders had worn blackface. But Scott’s claim goes too far in suggesting that this effort amounted to indoctrination of kids with critical race theory.

What is critical race theory?


Critical race theory is a broad collection of ideas about systemic bias and privilege. It holds that racism is ingrained in American history, and appears in big and small facets of life, like who gets a job interview or a home loan, and how people are treated by police. 

Opponents of critical race theory say that because it involves discussion of race, the approach is inherently racist, painting a negative picture of America and teaching white students to feel guilty. In May, Utah Republican Rep. Burgess Owens introduced two pieces of federal legislation aimed at restricting the teaching of critical race theory. Owens and other Republican members of Congress said the theory "undermines civil rights," and teaches students "to be ashamed of our country." 

In June, Scott introduced another resolution against the theory. "While we cannot ignore the scars of our past, we also cannot tolerate the attempts of the woke left to weaponize our history in radical curriculums that teach our children to see America only for its worst days, and the American people only for their darkest hours," he said.

Meanwhile, several states have passed legislation or rules barring the teaching of critical race theory in public schools.  

The 2015 slide presentation

Steven Staples, Virginia’s former superintendent of public instruction, said that critical race theory was not an initiative during his time in office. A McAuliffe appointee, Staples served in the post from 2014 until January 2018. 

In 2015, the Center for Public Integrity, a nonprofit investigative news organization, reported that Virginia referred students to law enforcement agencies at a rate three times higher than the national rate, with Black students making up a disproportionate percentage of the referrals. As part of its effort to combat this, Staples said the Department of Education held a two-day training program to encourage local school districts to examine their data for disproportionality and identify solutions. 

"A flurry of legislative proposals followed," Staples said.

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One of the presentations made during that 2015 institute came from Brenda L. Walker, a professor of exceptional student education at the University of South Florida whose area of specialization includes schooling issues related to Black students in the U.S., including how they are disciplined. Walker created the slideshow that Scott referred us to.

Walker told PolitiFact that Scott’s claim is incorrect, and her slides were being taken out of context. Her focus was on helping teachers be proactive in finding solutions to the problem of out-of-school suspension rates that primarily affected Black students, not on how to implement teaching critical race theory.

The presentation mentions the theory only once, and Walker said she leaned on it as one framework to help educators better understand the suspension-rate problem "so that teachers’ classrooms are responsive to the changing needs of their students and students’ families."

"CRT for me undergirded the presentation," Walker said. "I was trying to present a rationale for why we need to look at these issues differently. This problem has been going on for decades, so we can’t look at this in the lens that we’ve always used."

Walker’s presentation also included a tool to help teachers to develop their own action plans to address the issue of disproportionate suspension rates. 

The 2019 memo

In 2019, Lane, who was appointed by Democrat Gov. Ralph Northam, wrote a memo to district superintendents following the news that showed a number of Virginia politicians, including Northam, had worn blackface in the past. 

The memo read as a call to local school leaders to be actively engaged in creating inclusive and diverse environments for students.

"The recent revelations from some of our leaders have left our communities hurt and left our students seeking deeper understanding," Lane wrote. "Now more than ever, our joint commitment to supporting the social and emotional needs of Virginia’s diverse student population is required." 

Lane included a list of trainings, resources and books, including "Between the World and Me" by Ta-Nehisi Coates and "White Fragility" by Robin DiAngelo, the book that Scott mentioned.

However, the letter was meant for school leaders, not students. VDOE’s Standards of Learning include subjects like math, English, science, and history. VDOE’s media director Charles Pyle confirmed there is no mention of critical race theory. 

In our fact-check of Youngkin’s claim, we noted that a growing number of districts have announced that they don’t teach the theory, including Virginia Beach, Colonial Heights and Hanover County

VDOE’s executive communications director Ken Blackstone said the purpose of the document was to support division leaders as they worked to create a welcoming school environment that is respectful of all students, families and school staff. 

"To argue that a single memo, issued while the Commonwealth was embroiled in discussions about race, with outside resources for division leaders to consider, is a wholesale endorsement of Critical Race Theory in our schools is inaccurate and unfair," Blackstone said. 

Our ruling

Scott claimed that, "In 2015, when Terry McAuliffe was governor, the Virginia Department of Education promoted incorporating critical race theory lens in education...They were trying to indoctrinate kids." As evidence, he cited a slide presentation from 2015 and a 2019 memo written by the Virginia superintendent of public instruction.

The slide presentation was part of a two-day training program to help school administrators, teachers and staff solve the disproportionate rate of disciplinary action taken against Black students. The presentation referred to the theory only once — and it was under a slide marked "alternatives." The slide show’s creator said she referenced the theory as a framework to help educators better plan a course of action.

The 2019 memo was addressed to district superintendents, and its list of resources were suggested for school leaders, not as a part of the curriculum. Media representatives for Virginia’s education department have said that critical race theory is not included in the curriculum. Furthermore, a list of books that Scott referenced on VDOE’s website are books for school leaders and instructors — not kids. 

We rate Scott’s claim Mostly False. 

CORRECTION, Dec. 16, 2021: A previous version of this fact-check incorrectly quoted Brenda Walker to say "a decade," not "decades." We have updated this check to reflect this correction. The change does not affect the rating.


Our Sources

CNN YouTube video, Keilar challenges Senator Scott on Trump's role in 2022 midterms

PolitiFact, Youngkin offers little proof critical race theory is in 'all' Virginia schools, Aug. 10, 2021

Legal Implications of School Discipline: Street "CRED" (Culturally Responsive and Equitable Discipline), Sept. 22, 2015

Superintendent of Public Instruction James Lane’s memo, Feb. 22, 2019

Virginia is for Readers, What We Are Reading, accessed Nov. 11, 2021

PolitiFact, What is critical race theory, and why are conservatives blocking it? May 14, 2021

Press release, Owens Introduces Legislation to Combat Critical Race Theory, May 14, 2021

Press release, Sen. Rick Scott Introduces Resolution Condemning Critical Race Theory in K-12 Schools, June 7, 2021

Center for Public Integrity, Virginia tops nation in sending students to cops, courts: Where does your state rank?, April 10, 2015 

Superintendent of Public Instruction Steven Staples’ memo, Sept. 4, 2015

The New York Times, Second Virginia Democrat Says He Wore Blackface, Throwing Party Into Turmoil, Feb. 9, 2016

Virginia Department of Education Standards of Learning, accessed Nov. 12, 2021

Virginia Beach City Public  Schools, FAQ, accessed Nov. 15, 2021

Colonial Heights Public Schools, Colonial Heights School Board Clarifies Policies, July 23, 2021

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

McKinely Lewis, spokesperson for Rep. Rick Scott, Nov. 11, 2021

Email interview with Steven Staples, former Superintendent of Public Instruction, Nov. 12, 2021

Phone interview with Brenda L. Walker, Professor in the Exceptional Student Education Program at the University of South Florida, Nov. 15, 2021

Email interview with Ken Blackstone, executive communications director for the Virginia Department of Education, Nov. 16, 2021

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Critical race theory isn’t in Virginia’s curriculum

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