When it comes to fighting back against woke indoctrination and critical race theory in schools, Ian Prior is perhaps the happiest of warriors.
Prior is executive director of Fight for Schools, an organization dedicated to exposing bad actors in the public school system in Loudoun County, Virginia, and mobilizing parents to improve education for their children.
“We want to have a school system where our teachers are shaping future leaders, mentally tough leaders, hardworking leaders, people that will do the best that they can to get where they need to be. And we don’t need to be dividing along these identity group lines,” Prior says.
Prior joins “The Daily Signal Podcast” to discuss his fight against a woke school board and offer advice to others addressing these and similar issues in their school districts.
Doug Blair: My guest today is Ian Prior, an outspoken advocate against critical race theory in Loudoun County schools. Ian is the executive director of Fight for Schools, senior counsel for Unsilenced Majority, as well as the co-founder of the Daily Malarkey daily newsletter.
Welcome to the show, Ian.
Ian Prior: Thanks for having me.
Blair: Right. So, as I mentioned at the top, you are the executive director of Fight for Schools, which is a group that is at the forefront of the war on the left in our schools. Can you tell our listeners a bit about what Fight for Schools does and why you decided to start it?
Prior: Yeah, sure. So, I’ll back up to the beginning of this story. Really was about last September, October that I started doing a little investigation into what was happening in Loudoun County Public Schools.
I’d seen a Washington Free Beacon article talking about how they were using Teaching Tolerance materials, which is an arm of the Southern Poverty Law Center. And I said, “It’s pretty political, why are schools getting involved in that?”
And ultimately, I did some research into this high-price consultant that they had hired to really start what they call their Equity Committee, their equity office, run focus groups throughout the schools, and do teacher trainings. Found out they spent about $500,000 on that.
Then there was a couple of other things I looked into, a proposed teacher code of conduct, which would have disciplined teachers for speaking out against what they thought was the wrong direction of the school system, even on their own private time.
So I ended up writing an op-ed combining those two things. And I spoke at a school board meeting, really on the First Amendment rights of teachers and students.
Fast-forward to March, they had this private Facebook group called “The Anti-Racist Parents of Loudoun County.” In that group, you had the commonwealth attorney for Loudoun County, you had a member of the board of supervisors, and you had six school board members, which is important because six school board members makes a quorum and turns this into what should be a public meeting.
In that private Facebook group, one of the school board members really kind of lit a fire saying, “We need to speak out against these people that are opposing critical race theory in schools.”
That ultimately led to a call to action from somebody in there that they needed to infiltrate these groups that were opposed to critical race theory, publicly expose them, and hack their websites either to shut them down or to direct them to pro-critical race theory websites.
And then ultimately what happened is dozens of parents were listed, not just those that were opposed to critical race theory, but those that had gone to school board meetings the previous year and into that spring speaking up for opening schools, people that were speaking on behalf of teacher and student First Amendment rights, and those that were opposed to critical race theory.
And it really created an uproar in the community. Certainly there was a lot of press on that. I was more than happy to engage in that because I think that kind of cancel culture behavior needs to be exposed and you can’t play defense with that.
But ultimately, we had about eight parents, a bipartisan group of parents, that met on a back deck in our neighborhood and really talked about, “What can we do? This school board has not been listening to parents throughout the entire opening schools controversy. Now they’re engaged in private Facebook groups discussing school-related material. They’ve just lost their way. They have no trust in the community.” And so we decided that we would form a political action committee, nonpartisan, call it “Fight for Schools.”
Blair: So Fight for Schools is a larger organization where parents can come together to fight the left, as you mentioned, it’s more of a thing where parents come together to do this. I’m curious if you see a role for individual activists on this issue, is there something that they can do? And if so, what is that role?
Prior: I think every individual really needs to look in the mirror when it comes to these local elections, and that’s the first step.
And I’ve said it before, I mean, we have nobody to blame but ourselves. We have let this happen to our local school boards, our state education department, where we’ve just assumed that they’re going to be nonpolitical and they’re going to focus on excellence in education, meritocracy, making sure that everybody has an equal opportunity to succeed and learn all the necessities to succeed in life.
What I’ve found now, and what all of us have found, is that’s not the case. Politics has bled into the local level, right under our very noses.
So for people that want to get involved, I would say, first speak at your school board meetings, find out what’s going on. Talk to your neighbors, talk to your children, most importantly, talk to their teachers. Use Freedom of Information Act requests to find out exactly what materials your students are learning.
I think the pandemic provided an excellent opportunity and really gave rise to this parents movement where people started seeing, “This is what my kids are being taught on their Chromebooks, at 5, 6, 7 years old,” and realizing that something’s rotten in the state of education.
And it’s important to follow up on those, writing letters to the editor when you have that information, communicating things to the media, doing all the things that really we’ve been doing.
It started as me because I’ve been working in this media relations business for a while now, but I think what you’ve seen out here is other parents have been speaking up, and now they have those contacts as well.
So, when you look at Loudoun—and people talk about Loudoun as ground zero, I also call it the “Loudoun awakening.” This is where everything is really lighting a spark throughout the nation. It’s right outside of Washington, D.C. A lot of policymakers live here, a lot of people that know how to get things done, they’re doers. And that’s why I think this movement here has taken off so quickly.
Blair: That’s fantastic. And I actually find it so fascinating that Loudoun County is this hot bed and sort of a ground zero for these kinds of activities. My next question was about that. Why does Loudoun County in particular seem to be such a hot bed for this activity?
We had the Tanner Cross saga where a PE teacher was suspended from school for basically saying, “Hey, I’m a Christian. I’m not going to refer to a transgender student by a different pronoun because it goes against my faith.” He gets suspended for that. You mentioned that there was this anti-[critical race theory] secret Facebook group. This seems to be something that happens quite a bit in Loudoun County. Why is it Loudoun County that has all these problems?
Prior: That’s a great question. And I obviously point the fingers at the school board and the superintendent. Every time I think that, “All right, things are going to die down a little bit, we can focus on collecting signatures,” something else happens that feeds right into what our message is.
And that is, you have a school system and a school board that is fully committed to their own ideology and anybody else that speaks out against it, they do not want to hear from—whether it’s a teacher coming on his own personal time to speak at an open comment period where they invited comments or it’s parents clapping for somebody that gave a speech and then them shutting down public comments.
A school committee in March said, right after this list-making occurrence, “We have the numbers. We can and will silence the opposition.”
I think there’s a lot of hostility to the First Amendment rights of students, parents, and teachers. And I think there’s a lot of disrespect to the parents that are going out there and really just simply trying to make their voices heard.
It’s unfortunate that you have these individuals out there in all levels of government that look at parents as their political enemies. It doesn’t have to be that way. You don’t have to attack parents that are trying to speak up for what they believe is right.
But the fact is that you see it on social media and that’s really the devil, is how these politicians and these elected officials act on social media to their constituents. It’s really just gotten out of control. And I think that we’ve exposed a lot of how that works and we’re going to continue to do that.
Blair: So we’ve discussed some of these various things that the Loudoun County School Board and the Loudoun County school system have put forth in terms of radical leftist policies. In your opinion, what is the most egregious example of that? What can you point to as like, “Yep. This is the biggest issue”?
Prior: I think the biggest issue comes with how they train their teachers. They always say, “Well, we don’t teach critical race theory.” Well, no one’s saying that you teach Critical Race Theory 101. We understand that.
But what we’ve seen, especially through the documents that they use to train teachers, I mean, there’s one in particular that I think is probably the most grievous of all of them. It’s a chart, you’re either an oppressor and you’re in this column or you’re the oppressed and you’re in this column.
So obviously, if you’re white, you’re an oppressor … This one’s the craziest of all. If you’re a light-skinned individual of a minority race, you are an oppressor vis-a-vis a dark skin person of the same race. And that’s really what it’s about. It’s all about dividing along these lines and it’s absolute insanity.
Blair: I mean, yeah, that seems just absolutely crazy. I’m actually reading an article right now, referencing back to the Tanner Cross transgender issue. Virginia has basically said that local schools should probably start moving toward eliminating, quote, “gender-based practices,” which would say things like, “Oh, a father-daughter dance, that’s not OK anymore because it’s a gender-based practice. It offends somebody.” I mean, what do we do with this information? Like, how do we deal with this?
Prior: Yeah. I mean, it’s really insane that you have school systems that are focusing on this after a year when kids were not getting their proper training and education, right?
And so you have massive learning loss, you have special ed students that are falling even further behind, you have mental health issues. And they’re focusing on these kind of controversies that really don’t have a majority support.
What they should be doing is instead focusing on excellence in education; focusing on, look, we need competitive students—compassionate, yes, but competitive.
We want to have a school system where our teachers are shaping future leaders, mentally tough leaders, hardworking leaders, people that will do the best that they can to get where they need to be. And we don’t need to be dividing along these identity group lines.
We should be focusing on building strong individuals that are compassionate to their classmates, but also want to get ahead. They want to do better in school. They want to take AP calculus, advanced math, get advanced diplomas, go to good colleges. Instead, we’re focusing on these issues, it seems like the majority of their time are on these social partisan issues that have really divided a community.
Blair: Definitely. Let’s maybe shift gears from the more negative aspects of this to some of the more positive things. What would you view as a success, if you could point back to Fight for Schools and say, “You know what? Mission accomplished, we did it.”
Prior: I think long term, it’s a “bigger picture” thing. It’s lighting this spark that gets parents to pay attention to what is going on in their public schools, and being more outspoken in what it is we need, whether it’s policy changes, whether that’s school choice, whether that’s parents groups having a seat at the table on how these policies are decided at the local level, or even if it’s just getting people to go out there and really research who it is that’s running for school board and engage in those elections.
Everybody is so focused on what happens at the national level, but really what happens at the school level is, quite frankly, far more important for two reasons. First, that’s going to impact how your children are able to learn and ultimately succeed or not succeed in life. And secondly, the people that you elect to your school boards, those could be future leaders nationally as well.
And so you can’t ignore these posts and these elected spots, because this is really, I think, the breeding ground for potentially a lot of problems, but potentially also a lot of successes.
Blair: In terms of which is great to acknowledge that these are the successes that we’re looking for, can you point to any of those particular successes that we can look back as evidence that Fight for Schools is working?
Prior: We’ve been talking to everybody in the community. I mean, when you’re going out there, going door to door, having events, you get to talk to people and you learn about all the different concerns and priorities that folks have. And it really gives you a sense of what’s going on.
Whereas, if you’re elected to the school board, and you get elected in 2019, are you really going door to door? Are you really talking outside of your echo chamber? Probably not. We are. We’re going out.
I went door to door yesterday. I talked to somebody who was not for what we were doing. And you know what? That’s fine. There are going to be people out there and you’re going to learn what they think. And it’s been a really interesting experiment in democracy that we have been able to unify different groups.
And I would also say, after the Tanner Cross situation, I think, it started bringing more people to see what we were doing. And it’s really unified a bunch of different coalitions.
I think the other important thing that’s a positive is, you start realizing that when you get down to this local level, the R versus D doesn’t really matter anymore. … I have people on my board of Fight for Schools that I don’t know, maybe I don’t agree with them on immigration policy or other hot-button issues in the world. But on this issue, we are aligned.
And I think that there’s an opportunity for parents, at the local level, to really departisanize and focus themselves on this one issue and come to an agreement that what we want is excellency, meritocracy, mentally tough students, and hardworking students that are provided the opportunity to succeed.
So I think, if we’re talking about long-term goals, is having people at the local level being able to put aside their partisanship on some of the hotter-button issues and really focus on the core mission of a public education system.
Blair: That’s such a great point, to departisanize it, to make it that we’re not fighting about R and D. We’re not fighting about left and right. We’re not fighting about red versus blue. It’s what is best for the kids. It’s the kids that are very much the focus here.
I wanted to give you the last word here. We are running a little low on time, but if you had one thing you wanted our listeners to take away from this interview, what would it be? And then more specifically, could you give our listeners some recommendations on how to get involved in these anti-[critical race theory], anti-leftist policy rhetoric in the schools?
Prior: Sure. Well, again, I think getting involved is crucially important and it really comes back to having conversations. Get all social media, where you can talk to your neighbors, talk to other parents, have those day-to-day conversations that you can have more nuance and you can discuss more things without it seeming like you’re attacking somebody. Always try and get the other side’s perspective.
And look, you may not always agree with who you’re talking to, but if you can convince them 1% your way, and they can convince you 1% their way, then you’re moving forward to a cohesion of minds where we can ultimately unify people in a way that they can focus on schools.
As far as tactical things, I say it like this: You’ve got to investigate first, right? You got to investigate. That means, like I said, talking to people, sending FOIA requests, talking to your teachers, asking for the materials, look on your kids’ Chromebooks—you’ll find all sorts of things there.
Then you have to communicate. Communicate it. Communicate it to the rest of your community. Communicate it through the media, communicate it through letters to the editor.
And then finally, activate. If there is something wrong, then you need to activate a network of like-minded people that are willing to go out there and do the hard work. It’s not easy going door to door. It’s not easy putting yourself out there as a parent and getting attacked by your local school board member, but you have to do it.
If you want to make change, you really have to investigate, communicate, and activate.
Blair: Great advice. That was Ian Prior, an outspoken advocate against critical race theory in Loudoun County schools. Ian is the executive director of Fight for Schools, co-founder of the Daily Malarkey newsletter and senior council for Unsilenced Majority.
Ian, thank you so much for your time.