Education, some parents say, was the central issue that swung Virginia’s gubernatorial election to red. Republican candidate Glenn Youngkin defeated Democrat Terry McAuliffe in November to become Virginia’s next governor.

Youngkin’s win was “an alarm bell for President [Joe] Biden and the Democrats heading into next year’s midterm elections,” ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos said. 

Youngkin’s victory came as a surprise to many Virginians on both sides of the political aisle, because Virginia’s recent elections indicated the state was trending blue.

In 2017, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ralph Northam beat Republican nominee Ed Gillespie by 9 percentage points. In 2020, Biden defeated President Donald Trump by 10 points to win the state’s 13 electoral votes. 

Loudoun County, Virginia, residents Ian Prior and Tiffany Polifko attribute Virginia’s shift back to red in the 2021 gubernatorial race to parents and their concerns over what their children are being taught in public schools. 

While schoolchildren were “distance learning” online during the pandemic, parents in Loudoun County, about 45 miles northwest of Washington, D.C., had a window into what their children were being taught. 

“I first became aware of some of the questionable content that was being taught last year when my son received an assignment in his seventh grade English class asking him to essentially check his white privilege,” Polifko, a mother of two school-age children, told The Daily Signal in a recent interview. 

Some Loudoun County students were learning about critical race theory and gender identity ideology in the classroom, promoted by the county’s liberal school board members. 

The ideologies that were being taught in school “were finally exposed,” said Prior, the founder of the grassroots organization Fight for Schools. 

“It doesn’t matter what your political ideology is, your race, your ethnicity, your religion. Everybody puts their children first,” Prior said. “If they see that the government is not putting their children first, then they will push back.” 

And push back they did.  

“Critical race theory is racist. It is abusive. It discriminates against one’s color,” Loudoun County mom Shawntel Cooper, who is black, said at a school board meeting in May. 

The conflict over controversial critical race theory curriculum and gender identity policies in Loudoun County first began drawing national attention in March. It came to light that six of the county’s nine school board members were part of a private Facebook group “where parents were being plotted against for voicing their opinions at school board meetings,” Prior said. 

Tension rose in May when the district suspended physical education teacher Byron “Tanner” Cross after he spoke out against a proposed transgender policy at a school board meeting. 

Cross said he could not comply with the policy, which requires teachers to call students by their “preferred” pronouns, regardless of their biological gender, because “it’s lying to a child, it’s abuse to a child, and it is sinning against our God.” Cross sued and was reinstated following a court order.

The Loudoun County School Board ultimately adopted the policy anyway. Now, Cross and two other teachers are challenging the gender identity policy in court. 

As the controversy continued, including over a sexual assault in a Loudoun County school restroom, Prior and his organization, Fight for Schools, encouraged more parents to get involved and defend their children’s right to learn in an environment free from leftist indoctrination. 

“We are the shield that will stop this abuse of our children, that will stop teaching people to hate each other, that will stop elevating socially constructed identity groups over the value of the individual,” Prior said at a rally in June. 

As Loudoun County parents continued to express their concerns over school curriculums and policies, Youngkin listened, Prior said, but “McAuliffe dismissed” those concerns.

“I don’t think parents should be telling schools what they should teach,” McAuliffe said during a Sept. 28 debate between the two candidates.  

Parents like Polifko and Prior strenuously disagree. 

“Parents have a fundamental right to be involved in the upbringing and the education of their children,” Polifko said. 

During his victory speech on election night, Youngkin promised to “embrace” parents, “not ignore them,” an approach Polifko contends ultimately swung the election to the Republican. 

Parents and their children cheer for Virginia Republican gubernatorial candidate Glenn Youngkin at a campaign rally in Richmond on Nov. 1, the day before voters made him the state’s governor-elect. (Photo: Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)

Youngkin will be sworn in as Virginia’s 74th governor on Jan. 15. 

While Youngkin’s victory may have been a surprise to some, Prior said he thinks it shows that “the power of parents unifying for their children is the political issue” for the years ahead. 

Although concerns over critical race theory and gender identity played a large role in Virginia’s election, it’s important to recognize “this is happening all throughout our country,” Polifko said, adding that “we have a lot of work to do throughout America.”

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