Liberal candidates in the Loudoun County, Virginia, school board race have secured a victory in the battleground county that has become a culture war hot spot. Liberals now have a 6-seat majority on the nine-seat board.
The liberal candidates focused on Loudoun County’s reputation as a nationally recognized school system, championing its diversity and equity plans and shying away from weighing into the conservative culture wars that appear to be sweeping school boards nationwide.
The Loudoun County School Board is tasked with overseeing 98 schools that serve more than 82,000 students on matters ranging from approving the curriculum, setting policies, hiring a superintendent and setting strategic goals for the entire school system. Though the school board race is technically nonpartisan, candidates usually win endorsements from either Republican or Democratic groups. All nine seats were up for grabs with only two incumbents running.
Loudoun County, about an hour outside of Washington, D.C., became a notable culture war battleground in 2021 after several contentious school board meetings garnered attention from right-wing pundits and media outlets.
That year, a pair of campus sexual assaults at the district high school, both allegedly perpetrated by the same student, prompted false claims that the suspect was transgender. There’s no evidence that this was true, but conservative parents nevertheless began accusing school board members who supported LGBTQ-inclusive policies of failing to protect their children.
Conservatives also accused Loudoun County schools of teaching critical race theory, a college-level discipline that investigates the role racism plays in social and government policy.
Since then, the county has become a poster child for the ongoing battle over the control of America’s public schools, including debates over so-called parental rights, what educators are allowed to teach, LGBTQ+ issues, and pandemic policies. Local school board meetings and policies have made multiple headlines at conservative publications like Fox News and The Daily Caller.
The political climate surrounding school board elections has become so contentious that some potential candidates opted out of running.
“After seeing other wonderful possible candidates choose not to run for School Board specifically because they were afraid of that very hostility,” Anne Donohue, a candidate for the at-large district, told the Loudoun Times-Mirror in October, “I felt it was necessary to stand up and say we will not be scared or threatened into silence in the face of attitudes and priorities that do not better the lives of our children or represent the values and morals of the majority of our community.”
Virginia’s Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin credited his own 2021 election victory to a campaign focusing on parental rights. He’s since pursued book bans and policies attacking the rights of LGBTQ+ students, including regulations policing students’ bathroom use. In subsequent elections in Virginia and nationwide, Republican candidates have sought to replicate Youngkin’s results with varying degrees of success.