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Culture wars rage in Loudoun County, with dueling parent groups and school board recalls

Members of the Loudoun County School Board. (Ricky Carioti/The Washington Post)
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Furious fights over school policy and curriculum — some a proxy for larger cultural conflicts — continued unabated in Loudoun County this week, with some parents moving to recall members of the embattled school board and others forming a group to oppose that effort.

Fight for Schools, a parent organization that has advocated against the school district’s equity initiatives, is seeking the recall of five Loudoun County School Board members over their alleged violation of Virginia open meeting laws. A Loudoun County Circuit Court judge ruled Tuesday that the one recall petition the group has filed to date, against board member Beth Barts (Leesburg), could advance to trial, denying Barts’s motion to dismiss.

The judge also ruled to allow Fight For Schools to intervene in the case and agreed to the group’s request to appoint a special prosecutor. Fight for Schools had alleged Loudoun County Commonwealth’s Attorney Buta Biberaj, who normally would represent petitioners, had a “disqualifying conflict of interest” because of her “personal friendship” with Barts. The case will go to trial in coming weeks after a special prosecutor is named.

Barts declined to comment Tuesday, as did a Loudoun County Public Schools spokesman. Biberaj did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Ian Prior, the Loudoun parent and former Trump administration official who founded Fight for Schools, said in a statement: “Today, we were given a seat at the table and a fair process. We are grateful for the Court’s decision and finally have some hope.”

He tweeted a GIF of actress Carrie Fisher mouthing the word “Hope” as Princess Leia in the movie “Star Wars.”

Parents in Loudoun County, Va., file recall petition against school board member

Also this week, Prior said his group has gathered sufficient signatures to file formal recall petitions against board members Denise Corbo (At Large) and Ian Serotkin (Blue Ridge). Virginia law requires that recall petitions include signatures equivalent to 10 percent of the votes cast to elect the targeted official.

Fight for Schools has gathered more than 2,700 signatures on its petition against Serotkin and more than 10,000 on its petition against Corbo. Prior said Tuesday in a text message that “we haven’t made any decisions on timing of filing other petitions yet.” The group also is seeking the recalls of Vice Chair Atoosa Reaser (Algonkian) and Chair Brenda Sheridan (Sterling), although it has yet to cross the 10 percent threshold for them.

Corbo did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday. Serotkin said in a statement that he thinks the recall effort against him is frivolous.

“There is no merit to the allegations against me, and I look forward to my recall petition being dismissed whenever it is filed,” he said.

Five parents of Loudoun students in grades two through 12 have formed a political action committee, Loudoun For All, to counteract the recall effort, which it called “appalling” in a news release. Loudoun for All will work to support the Loudoun County School Board as well as the district’s equity efforts, members said, and has drawn thousands of dollars in donations since its formation four days ago.

How and why Loudoun County became the face of the nation’s culture wars

“We intend to use this money to spread the truth and counter the lies about transgender young people, critical race theory, and LCPS equity efforts,” the group’s president, Rasha Saad, said in a statement. “There is no reason equity in our schools should be this controversial.”

The Loudoun school system, a Northern Virginia district of 81,000, began working on racial justice initiatives about two years ago after two high-profile reports — one internal and one produced by the state — found evidence of widespread racism imperiling the progress of students of color. The initiatives included a public apology for segregation, bias training for teachers, and the banning of Confederate gear in school.

But these efforts have come under attack in recent months from conservative pundits, outlets and parents who allege that they indicate the school system is adopting critical race theory, a decades-old academic framework that says racism is systemic in the United States. Loudoun school officials have repeatedly denied the accusations.

Fight for Schools has been especially vocal in denouncing the school district’s racial justice work. The group and Prior, who has appeared on Fox News to discuss the issue, have together become the face of parent opposition to critical race theory in Loudoun.

All of the board members being targeted by the group are known to hold progressive views. Fight for Schools is not seeking the recall of the Loudoun board’s two conservative members, John Beatty (Catoctin) and Jeff Morse (Dulles).

Board member Harris Mahedavi (Ashburn), a Democrat, also is not being targeted.

Loudoun for All member Amanda Bean said Tuesday that she thinks the recall effort represents an attempt to make an end run around democracy.

“They are using recalls, rather than elections, to gain control,” Bean said. “Free and fair elections, not systematic recalls, should decide our future.”