Earlier this week, activists marched to the doors of a public hearing in Mt. Vernon, Va., beating on drums and yelling shrilly into the air in political theater over Virginia’s revised history and social science “standards of learning.”
Inside, local mother Suparna Dutta, whom the activists had recently smeared to defeat her nomination to the Virginia Board of Education, stood strong as a private citizen. She moved from the stage to the audience, firm as Democrat school board members, delegates, and activists lied at the podium. They falsely claimed the Board of Education’s revised standards that Dutta helped draft would “whitewash” education.
During the drafting process, Dutta courageously went toe-to-toe with Anne Holton, the wife of U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine, who sat like royalty at the dais at the Mt. Vernon meeting. Dutta, a Hindu immigrant from India, refuted Holton’s arguments that our nation’s founding documents are not remarkable and that socialism is compatible with our democracy.
During the Virginia Board of Education meeting on Feb. 1, Dutta had replied to Holton, “The Declaration and the Constitution … are remarkable documents.” Dutta, who lived under socialism in India, continued, “Socialism is the nanny state … which co-opts the important decisions belonging to families and individuals. It produces dependency and depression.”
In response, Holton’s supporters immediately organized a movement to reject Dutta’s appointment. Objecting to her perspective and audacity to stand up to the former first lady of Virginia, they claimed that the engineer and parent was not qualified to serve on the board.
Then they went even farther, defaming her all the way to the Virginia Senate floor. On Feb. 7, Virginia state Sen. Ghazala Hashmi introduced an amendment to remove Dutta from the board, citing an alleged affiliation with “very extreme and right-wing white supremacist groups.” The amendment passed on party lines, with every Democrat voting in favor.
One might think members of a political party that highlights the importance of “Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion,” or “DEI,” would embrace a Hindu immigrant woman of color on the Virginia Board of Education. After all, the purpose of diversity is not only for inclusion itself but for the sake of ideas. But these “diversity, equity and inclusion” supporters rule with an iron fist to maintain ideological conformity over diversity.
This isn’t the first time this group has attacked diverse public officials for failing to conform to their rhetoric. In 2021, Virginians elected their first black female lieutenant governor, Winsome Sears. Rather than welcoming her, “diversity, equity, and inclusion” ideological conformists also maligned the Republican as a “white supremacist.”
This intolerance for diversity extends to a diversity of views. In one of the most shameful cases, these conformists flexed their muscles to punish a decorated war hero. In June 2022, Gary Volesky, a retired three-star general who received the Silver Star for valor in Iraq, was suspended from his job as a military contractor for responding to First Lady Jill Biden’s post expressing disappointment in the overturning of Roe v. Wade. He had sent a tweet saying he was happy the first lady “finally knew what a woman is.”
Just like that, he was out of a job. It’s ironic that Volesky fought for our nation’s ideals abroad, only to have them desecrated after he returned home.
Public school teachers who are conservative also fear losing their jobs when they speak out in any political capacity. Virginia high school teacher Julie Perry recently told the Fairfax County school board that she had religious objections to mandated pronouns and that co-ed bathroom policies made girls in her class feel unsafe.
She was counseled in the principal’s office for her testimony. Perry subsequently was written up for objecting to the district’s lesson on implicit biases. She opted not to teach the lesson because she believed it violated Gov. Youngkin’s Executive Order One. Conversely, the school district’s leftist teachers freely pontificate opinions to their classes and deliver speeches to the school board without fear of reprisal.
Public school students also are politically persecuted if they do not toe the party line. In January and February 2022, my sons were suspended for multiple days for not wearing masks following the implementation of Youngkin’s Executive Order Two, which allowed parents to opt their children out of wearing masks. Even before the court adjudicated the executive order, the school district simply ignored the law and issued the maximum punishments and suspensions under “dress code” violations.
While the schools crack down on politically inconvenient students, they preside over growing student disruption in classrooms, lack of discipline, and even violence in schools. Contributing to these disturbing trends is the current school board’s attempt to avoid the “school-to-prison pipeline” by refusing to discipline violent students. Serious consequences, it seems, are reserved for those students guilty of political infractions (my sons’ political suspensions remain on their records, despite appeal).
At a recent town hall meeting, I approached the region’s “equity” specialist and told her the district’s penalties are harsher for conservative students. She replied that other parents had shared the same observation.
With remarkable documents, our nation was founded on the ideals of political and individual freedom. At one time, we upheld the importance of free speech and the diversity of thought. Now, we are held hostage by an intolerant contingent that is beating a dangerous war drum for ideological conformity, even in K-12 education.
Parents could surrender, but, like Dutta, they showed up to refuse intellectual hegemony. It’s time to reevaluate what it means to be an American and stand up for freedom from Mt. Vernon to beyond.
Stephanie Lundquist-Arora is a mother in Fairfax County, Virginia, an author, and a member of the Independent Women’s Network.
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