Loudon County Fiasco Illustrates the Folly of War on School Board Critics | Opinion

Earlier this month, Attorney General Merrick Garland issued a directive to curb what he described as a "disturbing spike in harassment, intimidation, and threats of violence against school administrators, board members, teachers, and staff who participate in the vital work of running our nation's public schools." He instructed Department of Justice personnel, including the FBI and U.S. attorneys across the nation, to find ways to address this "threat."

What is this great problem that supposedly requires Justice Department intervention? Parents around the country who voice opposition to curricula and lesson plans influenced by critical race theory, and to school board policies allowing students to use bathrooms that match their gender identities.

Garland's decision came in response to a letter from the National School Boards Association (NSBA). The letter demanded that the federal government deploy the FBI to investigate school board critics as "domestic terrorists" under the authority of the Patriot Act. The letter, and Garland's response, were the fruits of a media campaign to delegitimize the grassroots protest movement by highlighting incidents of parents acting unreasonably, or even violently, at school board meetings. Such incidents allow school board defenders to change the terms of the growing debate over critical race theory—instead of leftists successfully injecting toxic theories into schools, the public sees rabid right-wing bullies acting in the spirit of January 6 to attack education professionals.

One of the incidents mentioned in the NSBA letter and hyped in the media occurred in Loudoun County, Virginia, on June 22. As the narrative goes, an apparently unhinged man had violently resisted efforts to eject him from a school board meeting which he had sought to disrupt. The incident was widely cited as evidence that conservative fear-mongering is leading parents to violence.

But what really happened in Loudoun County? The truth about the incident doesn't just undermine Garland's effort to criminalize legitimate public protests. It reveals a scandal that deserves to be taken into account when discussing bathrooms and the impulse to demonize school board critics as extremists.

The man who was ejected from the Loudoun County school board was a parent named Scott Smith. In August he was found guilty of resisting arrest and disorderly conduct as a result of the incident.

Contrary to the prevailing narrative, Smith was not there at the behest of the local protest group Fight for Schools, which the chair of the Loudoun County Democratic Committee claims is associated with "Republican insurrectionists." Nor was he inspired by any anti-democratic or racist impulse. He was there to speak to the board about what happened to his 15-year-old daughter, who had been sexually assaulted in a girl's bathroom by a boy who was allowed to enter because of the board's transgender policies.

The attack took place on May 28 in Stone Bridge High School in Ashburn, Virginia. The June 22 board meeting was scheduled to discuss a measure which would require faculty to address transgender students by their preferred pronouns. When asked about sexual assaults, school superintendent Scott Ziegler dismissed the subject. "The predator transgender student or person simply does not exist," Ziegler said. "To my knowledge, we don't have any record of assaults occurring in our restrooms."

Virginia school board meeting
A woman sits with her sign during a Loudoun County Public Schools (LCPS) board meeting in Ashburn, Virginia on October 12, 2021. Andrew CABALLERO-REYNOLDS / AFP/Getty Images

It was only after that comment, when Smith was denied the right to speak about what happened to his daughter, that the much-ballyhooed scuffle with the police occurred.

But the problem in Loudoun County goes deeper. While the school board claims it had not been notified of the attack before the meeting where Smith was arrested, the alleged assailant was subsequently charged with two counts of forcible sodomy, one count of anal sodomy and one count of forcible fellatio. He was then apparently transferred to a different school where a 15-year-old boy with the same name has now been charged with sexual battery and abduction in connection with an October 7 incident in which a female student was forced into an empty classroom and assaulted.

The fact that the supervisor and the board denied the existence of the problem is bad enough. But the transfer of the student makes school boards' dismissal of any criticism of their policies look more like part of a politicized coverup than a defense of unfairly targeted educators. Even worse, it enabled an alleged rapist to victimize another young woman rather than affect the debate about transgender bathroom policies. The transfer brings to mind the pedophilia scandals that rocked the Catholic Church in recent years in which known predators were simply sent to different parishes.

One local Democrat described the reaction to the incident as a "witch hunt" that targeted a transgender student. But the facts of the case not only put Smith's arrest in a different light. They illustrate how Democrats' devotion to the cause of transgender rights may lead local authorities to ignore potential danger for children—and in particular, female students—in their schools.

The Loudoun County scandal has been largely ignored. Rather than engage in an honest debate about transgender policies and toxic ideas that seek to divide people on the basis of race and alleged privilege, most of the press have treated school board critics around the nation as Trumpist terrorists.

At a time of almost complete polarization, liberals may not want to think about the implications of the Loudoun County scandal for their pet ideological projects. Having committed themselves to the notion that those who question critical race theory or the impact of transgender policies on women and girls are racists and transphobes, few on the Left appear ready to listen to the other side.

Still, we have a right to expect that Garland would draw some obvious conclusions about the fraudulent accusations in the NSBA letter that he used as a casus belli for unleashing the FBI on school board critics. The attorney general—though widely touted as a moderate when former president Barack Obama nominated him for a Supreme Court seat—is now responsible for a significant and dangerous escalation in the culture war dividing Americans.

By seeking to treat legitimate—and indeed, highly justified—protests as a form of terrorism, Garland demonstrated that the real threat is coming from the government, not angry parents at school board meetings. The events in Loudoun County show just how fraudulent liberal claims that democracy is under siege from the Right truly are.

Jonathan S. Tobin is editor in chief of JNS.org, a senior contributor to The Federalist and a columnist for the New York Post. Follow him on Twitter at: @jonathans_tobin.

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.