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Loudoun school board cuts short public comment during unruly meeting; one arrested

The Loudoun County Public Schools board cut short the public comment section of a school board meeting on June 22 after attendees became unruly. (Video: Loudoun County School Board)

The Loudoun County Public Schools board cut short the public comment section of a school board meeting Tuesday after a large crowd of unruly attendees refused to obey several orders to quiet down in a disruption leading to one arrest.

Many of the speakers were there to express support or opposition for a draft school policy that would require teachers to address transgender students by their names and pronouns, as well as grant transgender students access to facilities and activities that match their gender identity. Loudoun is pursuing the policy in accordance with a recently passed state law requiring school systems to revise their treatment of transgender students. Board members were slated to discuss that draft policy at Tuesday’s meeting.

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Loudoun schools spokesman Wayde Byard said attendees at the meeting, held in person at the school system’s administrative offices in Ashburn, Va., engaged in “loud public demonstrations [that] violated the decorum of the meeting.”

Byard said school board chair Brenda Sheridan (Sterling) warned the crowd several times to lower their voices and referenced a school board policy that requires members of the public speaking at school board meetings to “refrain from vulgarity, obscenities, profanity or other . . . breaches of respect for the dignity of the school board.” Sheridan had opened the meeting by reciting this policy.

But the dozens of audience members did not listen, and — after 51 of roughly 250 scheduled speakers had approached the lectern to speak — the board called for a vote on whether to end public comment. Members voted unanimously to end the comment session and eventually resumed meeting in a closed session.

Kraig Troxell, the spokesman for the Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office, said that after the board voted to end public comment and asked those in attendance to leave, “several attendees refused to leave,” and one man was issued a summons for trespassing. A second man “displayed aggressive behavior towards another attendee,” Troxell said, then became disorderly with a deputy and “physically resisted arrest.” The man was charged with disorderly conduct and resisting arrest, Troxell said.

The board meeting was the last scheduled to be held in the Northern Virginia school system until the fall. The Loudoun school district has drawn national attention recently for controversies over critical race theory and its proposed policy on transgender students.

Some speakers on Tuesday came to protest critical race theory, a decades-old academic framework that posits in part that racism is woven into the history of America and has helped shape its present-day institutions and systems. Over the past two years, the Loudoun school system has pursued various equity initiatives meant to counteract the widespread racism that two high-profile reports found was imperiling the progress of Black and Hispanic students in the district.

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But some have seized on these initiatives as evidence that Loudoun is teaching students critical race theory, which Superintendent Scott A. Ziegler has denied.

A video of the meeting circulating online shows a speaker vehemently denouncing critical race theory as an ideology that teaches children to hate one another.

Late in the evening, after the school board finished its work, chair Sheridan gave a short speech, saying she could not let the “disruption that occurred in our board room tonight go unaddressed.”

Sheridan said school board members are receiving death and other graphic threats, including some that came on Tuesday night.

“I’m deeply concerned about the rise in hateful messages and violent threats aimed at progressive members of the school board,” she said. “Opponents of the school board who are pushing false stories about ‘critical race theory’ have severely hurt our ability to do the jobs we were elected to do.”

Sheridan noted that June is LGBTQ Pride Month. She promised that the Loudoun school board will continue to protect the rights of LGBTQ students. She said efforts to convert the county to “a political battleground” — rather than a place of learning — will ultimately fail.

“These politically motivated antics ought to end,” she said, referencing the recent unrest. “But if they don’t, know that they won’t delay our work.”