WASHINGTON - During a speech at Patrick Henry College in Loudoun County on Thursday, former Vice President Mike Pence hailed activist parents who are decrying school curriculums as un-American, equating instruction on the effects of institutional racism with "state-sponsored racism" and warning that such efforts might "indoctrinate" children.
Loudoun County has become ground zero for a battle between parent groups and school officials over curricula that has been replayed in counties throughout Virginia and beyond.
In Loudoun County, a group of vocal parents and other activists has routinely appeared at Board of Education meetings in force. At issue is a debate over what the group believes is critical race theory. The district argues that they are not teaching critical race theory, but are implementing education that emphasizes equity.
Ahead of the visit, Fox News indicated that Pence's appearance was not on behalf of Republican Glenn Youngkin's campaign. However, education has become a flashpoint in the Virginia governor's race.
Polls show a dead heat between Democrat Terry McAuliffe and Republican Glenn Youngkin ahead of Election Day on Tuesday; and a Fox News poll indicates that a majority of Virginia's parents support Youngkin.
In his speech at Patrick Henry College, a Christian university about 50 miles outside Washington in Loudoun County, Pence echoed many of the criticisms Youngkin has made central to his campaign and praised activists in the surrounding suburbs for propelling a "movement spreading all across the country."
"The eyes of the nation are on Loudoun County," Pence told the crowd of hundred, according to the Associated Press.
The former vice president has delivered speeches around the country on other policy matters and is widely thought to be preparing a 2024 presidential run. He did not appear with Youngkin or mention him by name on Thursday — but he didn't have to. The GOP nominee has made fighting for "parental freedom" a key part of his closing argument, highlighting his support for allowing parents to object to lessons on certain books and his opposition to critical race theory, a way of thinking about America’s history through the lens of racism.
Youngkin has tapped into the frustrations of parents' groups in Northern Virginia — many of them headed by officials with ties to the Trump administration, the Republican Party, or both — who have decried school COVID safety precautions, transgender policies and curriculums.
In recent weeks, Youngkin has seized on allegations of sexual assault at two different Loudon County high schools allegedly committed by the same student. The cases were widely publicized by conservative media, after the father of the first victim was arrested in an altercation with another parent at a school board meeting discussing transgender policy.
That led some activists to allege that school officials were more interested in punishing parents than stopping a student who has been charged with sexual assaults in separate schools.
Although the details of the case are still emerging, Pence seized on it, saying he was angered "to think those crimes happened because some adults cared more about politics than the well being of our kids."
"Mike Pence peddling these divisive, hateful, right-wing lies shows that he and Glenn have more in common than their complete and total allegiance to Donald Trump," McAuliffe spokeswoman Christina Freundlich told the Associated Press.
Pence repeatedly chided McAuliffe, who previously served as Virginia’s governor from 2014 to 2018, accusing him of supporting critical race theory.
Although the academic theory is rarely taught, especially in elementary schools, Pence and other speakers at Thursday’s event said they'd heard anecdotal stories about young kids being made to feel bad about being white.
"Children as young as kindergarten are being taught to be ashamed of their skin color," Pence said, adding that "critical race theory is nothing more than state-sponsored racism" and calling it an attempt to "indoctrinate our youth into radical, left-wing ideology."
The Associated Press contributed to this report