Suparna Dutta says she thought the exceptional nature of the Constitution and Declaration of Independence “was common sense,” but her recent experience with the Virginia Board of Education proved otherwise.
Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin appointed Dutta—a mother, engineer, and Indian immigrant—to the Virginia Board of Education in July.
“I was thrilled and very honored to be appointed by him as a voice of parent advocacy to the board,” Dutta says.
But the Virginia state Senate blocked Dutta’s appointment to the board just one week after she defended the Declaration of Independence and Constitution and criticized socialism and communism during a board meeting. She was even accused of being “aligned with white supremacists” for her views on America’s founding documents.
The Privileges and Elections Committee of the state Senate originally voted to confirm Dutta to the Virginia Board of Education, but after she defended the founding documents, Democratic state Sen. Ghazala Hashmi introduced an amendment to remove Dutta from the board.
“I do believe that the founding of this nation was something remarkable,” Dutta says, adding that “the documents that were drawn up, starting with the Declaration of Independence and then the Constitution, first and foremost, put the unalienable rights and our individual freedom first and foremost.”
Dutta joins “The Daily Signal Podcast” to share her story of being kept off the Virginia Board of Education, and to explain the ways in which woke ideology has influenced school boards and education across the country.
Listen to the podcast below or read the lightly edited transcript:
Virginia Allen: It’s my pleasure today to welcome to the show Virginia mother, engineer, and the co-founder of the Coalition for Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology Suparna Dutta. Suparna, thank you so much for being here today.
Suparna Dutta: Absolutely. Thank you for having me on.
Allen: This is a real pleasure. Now, when we think back to the summer, July, Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin, he appointed you to be on the Virginia Board of Education. But just recently, after you voiced opposition to socialism and you expressed support for the Constitution and the Declaration [of Independence], you were denied a seat at the table of that board.
I want to get to that conversation in just a minute and kind of walk through what exactly happened and why it happened. But first, I’d love just to hear from you why you think that Gov. Glenn Youngkin chose you and said, “Yes, I think Suparna is a perfect fit for the Virginia Board of Education.”
Dutta: Thanks, Virginia. I think back in summer of 2020 is when there was a lot of turmoil going on in the nation, summer of 2020. That’s when there was a lot of spread of the concept of [diversity, equity, and inclusion] all over the country. I think educators and principals were sending out emails to parents.
Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology is considered to be, by U.S. News [& World] Report, consistently the No. 1 public school in the country. And it used to have a standardized admissions race-blind, merits-based test. It was a minority-majority school, 73% Asian and more than 85% were non-white, if that matters at all for some people. It doesn’t matter to me. Let the child who wants to be encouraged and challenged by a rigorous curriculum get into the school. It is a Governor’s School for the Gifted.
The principal and then the school board, they decided that it didn’t match the demographic, racial demographic of the county, and it was pretty unfair in their opinion. And then-[Virginia] Secretary of Education Atif Qarni used a simple diversity reporting that was passed by the assembly that year to completely dismantle the standardized test to TJ, as we call it.
So a bunch of us parents found solace with each other and we got together. We contacted our local officials, board of supervisors, state delegates, state senators, anyone who was willing to hear us. We thought it would be just a question of trying to convince them, “Hey, look, these students are the best. They are the future. They are our future leaders, scientists, etc.” But there was consistently a pattern of hearing back and getting sympathy from one side of the aisle, the Right side of the aisle.
And then when Gov. Glenn Youngkin won the primary in 2021, we reached out to him and he reached right back out to us and he supported us. And that’s when I said that I would support him.
We also did reach out to [former Virginia Gov. Terry] McAuliffe’s camp, and I think what we heard back was that they wanted $25,000 for a one-hour Zoom meeting. But then-candidate Glenn Youngkin said that he would be happy to meet with us. He gave us an entire evening. It was like a town hall and it was fantastic. We worked with him and I thought that it was fantastic that he supported the cause of meritocracy and academic excellence. So that’s where we started reaching out to him.
And then his campaign asked me to lead the Educators for Youngkin Coalition. And I was very happy to do that. And then we had a lot of webinars, reached out to lots of people. Independent people reached out back to us. And then it was just fantastic when Gov. Youngkin, he won the race. I was thrilled and very honored to be appointed by him as a voice of parent advocacy to the board. So that’s the story.
Allen: Excellent. No, thank you for sharing that. It’s very helpful just to know that background and how that relationship developed. And of course, Gov. Youngkin, I think, saw in you something that’s so critical, to have real representation on any education board that is representation from parents, from those who are involved, not just in a community sense, but also because your kids are in school and you have a vested interest in furthering education. I know that you are looking forward to joining this board, but I want to talk through what happened just in recent weeks.
It was about a week before you were going to be confirmed to the Virginia Board of Education. You were in a board meeting with a number of other members and a conversation came up about the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence as well as socialism and communism. There were some remarks made by another board member, Anne Holton. She actually is the wife of Virginia Democrat Sen. Tim Kaine. She said that she was not comfortable with calling the Constitution and the declaration remarkable documents. And then, Suparna, you responded in defense of the Constitution and declaration.
Why did you choose to speak up? Why did you say, “No, I’m going to defend the Constitution and I’m going to defend the declaration here”?
Dutta: What I found odd was that nobody else stepped up. I thought that was common sense, and I just could not take it. There’s a reason I’m a very proud immigrant. I came to this country believing it to be the land of meritocracy, believing it to have equal protection under the law, treating everybody on giving every single person equal opportunity and equal liberty. So I do believe that the founding of this nation was something remarkable, something very different.
And then the documents that were drawn up, starting with the Declaration of Independence and then the Constitution, first and foremost, put the unalienable rights and our individual freedom first and foremost. And then it also put into place a system of checks and balances, and then, of course, the fantastic amendments. That’s what has made this country what it is, so great and the only superpower right now. I don’t think since then there are any such founding documents in the whole world.
So I thought that I had to jump in and I had to say that, “No, it does not enshrine slavery. I think it enshrines individual liberty and freedoms.” And I didn’t believe that it actually limited protection only to white propertied men, which is what she claims or claimed. So I thought that I had to jump in and say something.
Another thing that she said, I think that she objected to the word “socialism” as a political system, which is incompatible with the preface to the standards had, that socialism and communistic political systems are incompatible with democracy and individual freedoms. She wanted the word socialism removed. And I thought, I come from a country which it was founded as a socialist country, and I think that socialism really robs people of their individual liberty and it replaces group rights over individual rights.
Just in Encyclopedia Britannica last night, I was looking it up and said, “OK, what is really socialism, as defined commonly?” It says, “It’s a doctrine that calls for public rather than private ownership or control of property and natural resources.” And I’ll read one more line, “As socialists see it, true freedom and true equality require social control of the resources that provide the basis for prosperity in any society.”
I’ve seen in India how it is, what you can do with the simple phone call in this country requires hours and hours of standing in lines or knocking doors there to get it done. So I do not believe that. I think at the school board meeting, I said that socialism is just a euphemism for communism, which I do believe. She also mentioned that in comments to the school board, she said that some rules are best owed by the centralized government. I don’t agree with that.
Allen: What happened in the boardroom after that exchange? Did you all talk again? Did anyone else chime in? Did things feel pretty tense in the room?
Dutta: We have had a lot of contentious discussions since August of 2022, which is when the first History Standards of Learning were unveiled. And it’s since then that I have been speaking out completely against those Standards of Learning. They talked about everything from a lens of race and it was very unfortunate. So since August of 2022, I’ve been speaking out.
They had these themes and concepts everywhere in the standards where for history, for example, they defined freedom in terms of power, power to act without hindrance or restraint through agency and advocacy rather than in terms of the traditional American values of individual liberty and economic freedom subject to due process under law. And I talked about, you know, it highlighted, which I think are questionable concepts, like conflict and power relationships, and it highlighted colonialism, imperialism, servitude, and enslavement. Everything was just laced with that. And that’s what I said again.
Allen: Well, just a handful of days after that exchange took place, the Virginia Senate, they blocked your appointment to the board. Why do you think they blocked you?
Dutta: Virginia, what is interesting is that Jan. 31, it’s the night before that school board meeting. This vote was taken in the Privileges and Elections Committee in the Senate. And that has 10 Democrats and four Republicans, and it passed unanimously. So we were all voted unanimously the night before the meeting. And then just one week after the exchange on Feb. 7, they all flipped.
I think that I refused to partake of groupthink. I have my own independent thinking. And I thought that, really, on the board, each of us was equal. I didn’t think that she was the wife of a powerful senator, and it shouldn’t matter. I was just as equal as she was. So maybe not.
So then, that day, [state] Sen. Ghazala Hashmi introduced an amendment, I think SJ 276, to remove my name. She first said that I was not fit. And then when that was challenged, she said that I aligned with white supremacist. Basically, she maligned me and slandered me as a white supremacist. Not a single Democrat senator questioned her, including my own senator, Chap Petersen. Nobody questioned her. It was pretty amazing. It just feels, could this really be the country I immigrated to?
Allen: What was running through your head when you learned that the senator had called you a white supremacist?
Dutta: I thought it was so completely absurd that it couldn’t be true. And then if it were true that she had, that it was just such a smear campaign. Now I understand that it started on the social media and she pedaled these lies on the floor of the Senate. So I was shocked. I was pretty intimidated. I couldn’t understand how this could happen in America. I guess it was my first taste.
Allen: What do you think that this says about the state of public education today and the folks that are so often in control or that have a lot of power within our public institutions such as education?
Dutta: That’s a great question because I think this is not about me, this is about a parent challenging the status quo. This is about a parent saying, “I need the best education for my child. What you’re giving, and shown by the declining NAEP scores, The Nation’s Report Card, and also the Standards of Learning assessment scores, clearly something is going down the wrong way.”
Since June of 2020, I’ve been watching the Fairfax County School Board meetings, and not once did I hear them talk about academic excellence or even education. It was about things that parents didn’t want, didn’t care about. It was about speech policing. It was about fringe things that parents don’t care about. We want a good, wholesome education for our kids. And we understand that there are some very powerful vested interests there. The teachers unions are very powerful. And public education, unfortunately, is such a monopoly. It’s a David vs. Goliath situation where parents are just poor little Davids.
Allen: Suparna, how old are your kids? And after this experience, would you still be comfortable with them attending the public schools?
Dutta: No. My daughter was in high school. Yeah, she was, I believe, a junior back then. And after all of that, we tried looking for a private school for her, tried taking her out. Unfortunately, no private schools would take a senior. And my son was a freshman at that time. And then we struggled for a couple of years. And then it was not just the things that they were learning, it was also the things that they were not learning.
Back-to-school night at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, I asked a question that the social studies curriculum, it was all about oppression and marginalized and the history of the dispossessed. And I said, “Maybe this ought not to be the focus. There ought to be a complete history.” And I don’t think he liked that comment very much. So it was heartbreaking. And even in English.
In fact, I found later when I was cleaning my son’s room as a freshman, this was what he was given in English class. OK, this is not even social studies. And what this has, it talks about, “How can identity be changed? How much do my mistakes relate to my identity? How can literature shape, explore, and address identity?” So I found it in his room when I was cleaning.
Also, this is from Langley High School, just last October. I don’t know if you can see it, but this is in a Spanish class. What this talks about is, it talks about social identity groups and it talks about “identify the memberships that you claim or those ascribed to you.” And then talks about marginalized group and privileged group, defining them as marginalized, being disenfranchised and exploited, privileged being those that hold unearned privilege in society.
So this is what is being taught to our children. This is so, so incorrect, so bad for the psyche of our children. Really, they’re overworked, they’re tired, but they have to see what’s going on, and the pandemic did provide a very good view of what’s going on. And I have so many more examples to tell you, but I know you don’t have time for that.
Allen: Well, we’d love to go through each and every one because it is wild to see how in the classroom kids are being really funneled into these boxes based on skin color, background, nationality.
Now, what are you doing moving forward? Because I think, for so many parents, it just feels overwhelming. It’s like, “What is my role?” And you were taking action. You were being a part of the Virginia Board of Education. What a great avenue to have influence, but you were blocked from that. So what’s your path forward?
Dutta: And this was a volunteer position. I wasn’t earning anything. I was taking my time off from my work to go to Richmond and attend those meetings. I tried to do my due diligence before every meeting, and I would talk to parents, gifted education, special education, all teachers and experts, and get their opinion while preparing for the school board meeting.
So I think that they have lost the perspective of a parent. I think I was the outsider there because I questioned everything. I think if I had to do it again—would I do it all over again? I think I would, yes. I think we have a duty toward children, our children. If we don’t advocate for our children, no one will, no one will know.
Allen: Such a call to be involved. Suparna, thank you so much for your time today.
Dutta: May I add one last thing, Virginia?
Allen: Please do.
Dutta: OK. I just also want to say that, as part of the written comments to the school board members, Ms. Holton also said something that I was very shocked [by]. There was a line in there which talked about that students, which I agree with, students should be exposed to the facts of our past, even when these facts are uncomfortable. Yes.
Allen: Of course.
Dutta: Teachers should engage students in age-appropriate ways that do not suggest students are responsible for historical wrongs based on immutable characteristics such as race or ethnicity, which I think is common sense. Wouldn’t you think so?
Allen: I would think so.
Dutta: Ms. Holton wanted to remove that complete last line, which said that, that do not suggest that students are responsible for historical wrongs based on immutable characteristics. What does that tell you? That is [critical race theory].
Allen: Suparna, do you plan to continue speaking out on this issue?
Dutta: If I’m asked to, yes, I will. I mean, I think that maybe many parents still don’t know what’s going on in classrooms. So yeah, sure.
Allen: Excellent. Well, again, thank you so much for your time today. We truly appreciate it.
Dutta: Thank you, Virginia.
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