Explosive allegations from a Loudoun County parent this week about a cover-up orchestrated by the Northern Virginia county’s embattled school system could affect the state’s governor’s race, in which schools have become a major flashpoint. Virginia Gov-elect, Terry McAuliffe, gestures during a news conference in Richmond, Va., Wednesday, Dec. 18. (AP Photo/Steve Helber) Steve Helber

Loudoun County allegations loom over Virginia governor’s race

Sarah Westwood October 14, 07:00 AM October 14, 07:00 AM

Explosive allegations from a Loudoun County parent this week about a cover-up orchestrated by the Northern Virginia county’s embattled school system could affect the state’s governor’s race, in which schools have become a major flashpoint.

Scott Smith, a Loudoun County parent, claimed this week that his daughter was sexually assaulted in a girl’s bathroom by a boy wearing a skirt. Smith, who was arrested at a raucous school board meeting in June, said the school was aware of the incident but attempted to handle it “in house” without acknowledging it publicly.

The claims have thrust Loudoun County schools back into the spotlight, months after fierce parent protests at school board meetings in early summer turned the county into the seat of a nationwide activist movement focused on schools.

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Glenn Youngkin, the Republican candidate vying to become Virginia’s next governor, has worked to capitalize on angst among many of the state’s parents throughout the campaign.

His Democratic opponent, former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, took heat after the most recent gubernatorial debate when he said he does not “think parents should be telling schools what they should teach.”

The Youngkin campaign was quick to cut an ad slamming McAuliffe for the comment and has since pushed to paint McAuliffe as out of touch with the concerns of Virginia parents.

Youngkin has pushed to connect two issues central to many of the state’s voters: COVID-19 restrictions and education. Republicans in Virginia have argued frustration over school closures and mask mandates over the past year has driven much of the anger over perceived left-leaning curriculum in the classroom.

The latest allegations about Loudoun County, an affluent suburb outside the nation’s capital, come just weeks before Election Day in Virginia — and as the race is tightening.

Recent polling has shown Younkin within striking distance of McAuliffe in the final stretch of the race. McAuliffe leads Youngkin by just 3.4 points in the RealClearPolitics average of polls, and some more recent surveys show the two even closer.

President Joe Biden carried the state by more than 10 points last year.

Youngkin has also made inroads with voters enthusiastic about the school issue.

In a CBS/YouGov poll published on Tuesday, Youngkin leads McAuliffe by 20 points among Virginia voters who rated “school curriculums on race and history” as a top issue in deciding their vote.

Neither the McAuliffe campaign nor the Youngkin campaign responded to requests for comment.

A move from the Biden administration this month supercharged the debate over how much say parents should have over curriculum decisions at public schools when the Justice Department vowed to crack down on what it described as domestic threats from parents aimed at school boards.

Youngkin attempted to tie McAuliffe to the decision, accusing him of helping to facilitate the crackdown on activism like that seen in Loudoun County.

Chaos at a school board meeting there in June highlighted the emotional nature of the issue animating many Virginia voters with children, who Youngkin has aggressively attempted to court.

The school board shut down the meeting amid unruly demonstrations from parents, and Loudoun County schools said Wednesday that Smith, who was arrested at that meeting, had not registered to speak according to the board’s rules.

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A spokesman for Loudoun County schools said in a statement that school board members were not aware of the alleged incident during the June school board meeting when board members dismissed safety concerns related to transgender bathroom policies as a “red herring.” The spokesman said in the statement that board members only learned about the allegations when they were reported in the media this week.

“If the school board was made aware of the case, it would be done in a closed session to comply with state and federal confidentiality laws. There was a closed session last night involving student discipline,” Wayde Byard, Loudoun County schools spokesman, told the Washington Examiner. “I do not know what was discussed, as I cannot know by law.”

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