Glenn Youngkin launched his tenure as Virginia’s 74th governor this weekend with three executive orders devoted to education — a level of focus on schools that is unprecedented in recent memory and which spells the all-but-certain continuation of polarizing cultural and curricular battles in the divided state.
Youngkin’s first order forbids the teaching of “inherently divisive concepts, including Critical Race Theory,” an academic framework that examines how policies and laws perpetuate systemic racism in the United States. Educators in Virginia and nationwide contend the theory is not taught at the K-12 level, but conservatives have weaponized the term as a catchall symbolizing schools’ equity and diversity work. Another order promises the investigation of Loudoun County Public Schools, a wealthy Northern Virginia district that has been embroiled in high-profile controversy for more than a year over allegations related to critical race theory and transgender rights, as well as administrators’ bungled handling of two sexual assaults.
The Republican governor’s third order asserts that parents must be allowed to decide whether their child wears a mask in school, regardless of what federal or district-level officials say.
The order, with health and safety implications for millions of children and teachers, has elicited confusion and conflicting vows of defiance from districts in more liberal parts of the state, suggesting heightened tension between Virginia schools superintendents and the governor in the first week of his administration. School districts in the immediate D.C. suburbs fired back this weekend by asserting that masks will continue to be required inside buildings.
“Like any contentious issue in American politics, this will end up in a courtroom,” said Stephen Farnsworth, a p
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