Today, the fight over Critical Race Theory. You've probably heard some states are trying to outlaw its teaching in school. But even where it's not officially part of the curriculum, it can be creeping into education in a way that supporters say is righteous but opponents claim is racist. And no place is the debate hotter than in Loudoun County, Virginia.
A June school board meeting in Loudoun County, Virginia erupts in shouting and scuffles. It's emblematic of simmering tensions across the country.
Dick Black/Meeting attendee: Critical Race Theory is a theory that says white children are demons, hate them.
Glenn Zeisler/Meeting attendee: This garbage shouldn't be being taught to our children. This is indoctrination.
Loudoun County, Virginia, an hour outside of Washington D.C., is the wealthiest county in the U.S. Minorities number close to half of the population and, together, outnumber whites at school.
Democrats recently flipped the county board of supervisors and the school board.
With that political shift came efforts to promote Critical Race Theory and silence the opposition. A movement so aggressive, it triggered what may be the only criminal investigation of its kind in America.
Sheriff Mike Chapman: This is weird. I mean, we've always dealt with criminal law.
Loudoun County Sheriff Mike Chapman’s agency headed up the criminal probe involving Critical Race Theory.
Sheriff Chapman: I've never seen such a politically-charged concerns come up in law enforcement like they have over the past year.
Before we get to the specifics of the criminal investigation, it helps to know how the two camps divide.
Supporters of Critical Race Theory claim white racism is embedded in American institutions, and some go so far as to blame whites for poverty and crime in black communities.
Opponents claim Critical Race Theory is inherently racist, teaching people to judge by skin color: all whites are oppressors, all blacks are victims.
Jackie Vonwodke/Meeting attendee: It's time to look at history and look at everything that happened. Not just the white man's version of what happened.
Alicia Royer/ Meeting attendee: It is flat out racism and it needs to be kicked out of the schools.
Since 2019, Loudoun County schools have spent hundreds of thousands of tax dollars related to Critical Race Theory, according to the sheriff’s investigation. Much of the cash has gone to the “Equity Collaborative,” a group that seeks to expose and eliminate “the dominant (male, White, heterosexual) ideology” and teaches tenets like “Whiteness as property” and “Permanence of racism.”
One contract for work included “Coaching support for [Loudoun County school] leaders focused on “Critical Race Theory Development” at $625 an hour. Another contract was for six remote sessions for a high school principal at a cost of $24,000.
It was all largely under the radar until last March when this recording of a virtual advanced high school English course went viral.
Teacher: And that's all you see, two people?
A Loudoun County teacher asks students to describe this photo but doesn’t like one student’s non-racial response.
Student: Just two people chillin.
Teacher: I think you are being intentionally coy about what this is a picture of.
Student: Are you trying to get me to say there are two different races?
Teacher: Yes, I am asking you to say that.
Student: Well, at the end of the day, wouldn't that just be feeding into the problem of looking at race instead of just acknowledging them as two normal people?
Teacher: No, it's not. Because you can't not look at, you can't look at the people and not acknowledge that there are racial differences, right?
Before long, the dispute over Critical Race Theory boiled over into a criminal matter centered on the actions of a private Facebook group called “Anti-Racist Parents of Loudoun County.”
Sheriff Chapman: There was an active effort on the part of the people that were part of this Anti-Racist Parents of Loudoun county to target people that didn't agree with them.
The Facebook group suggested getting a “list” of Critical Race Theory opponents.
“We need moles to infiltrate their groups” using “fake user profiles,” writes one member. Another advocates for “hackers who can shut down their websites or direct them to pro-[Critical Race Theory]pagesexpose these people publicly”
Sheriff Chapman: That's really where that complaint came in. And that's when we started looking into like, "Do we have a crime here? Are these folks being targeted?”. And I couldn't really go to my Commonwealth Attorney because she was part of this group. I couldn't even get legal advice from our-
Sharyl: She was part of which group?
Sheriff Chapman: She was part of the Anti-Racist Parents of Loudoun County that was looking to go after, in lack of a better term, the people that disagreed with what they believed in.
In an unexpected development, the woman who would be responsible for prosecuting any crimes committed was part of the Facebook group in question. Buta Biberaj was elected as Loudoun County's Commonwealth Attorney in 2019, after liberal billionaire activist George Soros funded almost her entire campaign.
Besides Biberaj, Sheriff Chapman says the investigation revealed other notables in the controversial Facebook group: Local city and county officials, teachers and 6 members of the school board.
Scott Ziegler is Loudoun County school superintendent.
Sharyl: There were school board members and teachers on this Facebook group that were pressing the notion of Critical Race Theory for the schools.
Dr. Scott Ziegler: I'm not familiar with the group, so I wouldn't comment on it. We have been saying loudly and clearly for months that Loudoun County public schools does not teach Critical Race Theory. It's not part of our curriculum.
Sharyl: Do you support or oppose it?
Ziegler: I don't have any thoughts on really Critical Race Theory at all. Critical Race Theory is an academic endeavor that is reserved for law school. And so it's not a topic that we talk about. It's sad, because Critical Race Theory has been turned into this curse word, if you will, that encompasses things that it was never intended to encompass.
Sharyl: There is a receipt, as you know, like an invoice, that shows Loudoun County hired the Equity Collaborative. And it specifically says on there, “Critical Race Theory development discussions with staff.” What is that about?
Ziegler: For an administrator to look at something from a purely academic standard is appropriate. And so, they enlisted the help of the Equity Collaborative to help them explore that topic as part of their own professional development.
Sharyl: With taxpayer money?
Ziegler: Well, with taxpayer money. But of course it's with taxpayer money, we're a tax-funded school board. That’s not evidence of indoctrination, that’s not evidence of implementation. That's evidence of exploration. So, we can explore a lot of ideas and we take the ones that are helpful, and we reject the ones that are not.
Whatever the case, educators and activists across the country are actively endorsing tenets of Critical Race Theory. More than half of U.S. states have restricted teaching Critical Race Theory or related themes.
Sharyl: Why do you think Critical Race Theory has become, as you said, a curse word, such a visceral reaction for so many parents?
Ziegler: So, I think it's been the politicization of equity work and the unfair broadening and application of that term Critical Race Theory.
Loudoun County's criminal investigation into the Facebook group took months. Sheriff Chapman says he consulted outside lawyers and even the FBI.
Chapman: We looked into threats, we looked into harassment, we looked into what the elements of all those different crimes would be and whether or not they met the thresholds. But nothing really rose to the level of, or met the threshold, of what we needed to do any kind of a criminal charge on this.
As for Biberaj, the prosecutor who belongs to the Facebook group, she told us the purpose of the group was “as a support to promote anti-racism,” and that she “stands in support of equity and inclusion and stands against racism in any form.” If there had been a criminal charge, she says, her office would have determined if there was any conflict of interest in leading the prosecution.
That case may be closed. But the national dispute over Critical Race Theory remains wide open.
Michael Rivera/Meeting attendee: I don't need my 13-year-old being taught that— he happens to be white because I'm in a mixed race marriage— that he's an oppressor and his little black friend is oppressed and now he's into awkward conversations with his friends.
Jackie Vonwodke/Meeting attendee: The position's been made pretty clear that public schools are not teaching critical race theory. But honestly, if they were it would be okay with me.
Crowd at meeting chanting: Shame on you, shame on you.
Sharyl (on-camera): One member of the Loudoun County school board is set to appear in court in the coming days to defend herself from a citizen's petition that got enough votes to remove her. And in Guilford, Connecticut, a landslide victory in a Republican primary for five anti-critical race theory parents who crushed three incumbents school board candidates and will face a slate of Democrats and Independents in November.