Virginia Democratic gubernatorial nominee Terry McAuliffe said parents concerned about critical race theory in public schools are using a "racist … dog whistle" to "create divisions."
During a Thursday roundtable with Hampton-based WAVY News 10, McAuliffe repeatedly refused to define critical race theory and accused parents who are concerned about the issue of "stirring" others up to "create divisions."
"It's racist. It's a dog whistle," McAuliffe said. "Here's what I've said all along, and it really bothers me. It really bothers me—this whole idea of stirring parents up to create divisions. Our children are going through such challenges today because of COVID, and we're talking about something here today [that's] wasting precious viewers' time."
McAuliffe did not return a request for comment. His roundtable remarks faced pushback from moderator Anita Blanton, who asked the Democrat how he can call critical race theory "racist" if he refused to define it. "If we don't have a definition, how can we say it's racist?" Blanton, who is black, asked McAuliffe. "I just want a definition." McAuliffe dodged the follow-up.
McAuliffe's comments come as the Democrat faces a tightening race against Republican opponent Glenn Youngkin. According to an October Emerson College poll, McAuliffe is trailing among the state's suburban voters—whom President Joe Biden won handily in 2020—as parent groups in Northern Virginia push back on the emergence of critical race theory in their public schools. Parents Defending Education president Nicole Neily said McAuliffe's remarks "insult parents' intelligence."
"In district after district across the commonwealth, PDE has received tips and anecdotes on how this ‘theory' is being implemented—and children are being treated differently on the basis of immutable characteristics," Neily told the Washington Free Beacon.
The rise of parent activism has earned the ire not only of Democratic candidates but also of the Biden administration, which has attempted to cast it as a potentially violent movement. On Monday, the Department of Justice announced its National Security Division—which was created in 2006 through the PATRIOT Act to combat global terrorism—would begin investigating "violent threats" made against school districts.
While McAuliffe assured viewers Thursday that critical race theory "is not taught here in Virginia," school boards across the state have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on coaching and training sessions that push the controversial framework. Loudoun County's public school district, for example, has spent more than $420,000 in taxpayer funds on diversity training from an "equity focused," California-based business that includes critical race theory in its "educational tools."
This is not the first time McAuliffe, who served as governor from 2014 to 2018, has faced criticism for an education-related campaign comment. Just weeks before the roundtable, McAuliffe asserted that parents should not tell schools what to teach and defended his decision to veto a 2016 bill that would have notified parents if a teacher planned to use "instructional material that includes sexually explicit content."
"I'm not going to let parents come into schools and actually take books out and make their own decision," McAuliffe said during a September debate. "So, yeah, I stopped the bill that—I don't think parents should be telling schools what to teach."
McAuliffe and Youngkin will square off on Nov. 2.