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Education is Playing a Big Role in Virginia Elections This Year

As Election Day approaches, many candidates are turning their attention to issues involving education.

Should transgender students be able to use the bathroom of their choice? What role should parents play in determining which books are banned from public school libraries? As Election Day approaches, Republicans up and down the ballot are drawing attention to things like critical race theory — a law school concept that is not taught in Virginia schools.

Quentin Kidd at Christopher Newport University says the debate is about politics not policy.

"There can be no banning of critical race theory in public schools because it isn't taught," Kidd explains. "And so raising it as an issue is essentially only gaining immediately electorally but it's not going to result in any different public policy because there's no public policy to make around it. So there's an immediate electoral benefit to it for Republicans."

Stephen Farnsworth at the University of Mary Washington says the loudest voices in the room at school board meetings get all the attention. But, he says, that does not mean they’re the majority.

"Surveys demonstrate a pretty high level of support for performance of the school boards in the COVID crisis at least," Farnsworth says. "And that suggests that this really is more about activating the base rather than reaching to moderate voters not engaged otherwise in the gubernatorial campaign."

The issue has become a flashpoint in northern Virginia, where school officials in Loudoun County are grappling with allegations of sexual assault committed by a student at two separate high schools.

This report, provided by Virginia Public Radio, was made possible with support from the Virginia Education Association.

Michael Pope is an author and journalist who lives in Old Town Alexandria.