Youngkin’s ‘Parents Matter’ town halls are a political stunt


Over the past few weeks, Gov. Glenn Youngkin has been touring the commonwealth hosting “Parents Matter” town halls. The primary message at these events is that parents have a right to be a part of their child’s education. As the past president of Virginia PTA and the current board chair of the nonpartisan organization We the People for Education, I couldn’t agree more. Parents and teachers must have strong, supportive relationships. Schools must engage directly with families in order to pave the way for student success.

But unfortunately, these productive messages aren’t what we’re hearing at these town hall events.

Sarah Gross

Sarah Gross

Instead, there’s talk of absolute control over school curricula, library books, lessons and even classroom management. At these events, it seems you’re more likely to hear far-right extremism, conspiracy theories and anti-LGBTQ hate than any of the practical solutions we would hope the governor and his team would be promoting.

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There is a very real effort underway to repackage these politician stunts into an example of thoughtful discussion. Even as students struggle due to learning loss and fewer resources, as teacher pay remains one of the lowest in the nation and as the commonwealth continues to underfund public education, we see the governor’s public relations team focus its time and effort on rebranding the far-right radicalism spouted at these events as a series of commonsense solutions.

Parents across the commonwealth are told over and over, by both statewide leaders and national political figures, that teachers are pushing some kind of social agenda — that there is a concerted effort underway to remove the parent from the decision-making process entirely. This is a tactic to inspire fear and spark enough outrage to earn votes.

It’s also patently untrue.

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Gov. Glenn Youngkin speaks with attendees after a “Parents Matter” town hall meeting held at Crestview Elementary School in Henrico County on Aug. 8.

Almost every Virginia school board is popularly elected, and their public meetings are a perfect way for parents to weigh in on these initiatives. They can also meet with their child’s teacher to share concerns, schedule meetings with school leadership and share policy ideas directly with school board members.

What keeps me up at night, though, is that many local school board candidates with a troublesome history of advocating for extreme, anti-public education policies are positioning themselves as reasonable and moderate. In short, they’ve taken a page from the governor’s town hall playbook.

As an advocate for public education, I worry about this extremism up and down the ballot, because as back-to-school begins and our students confront another year of very real challenges, I’m seeing leaders from all levels of government focus on political stunts — stunts that might win them votes but do absolutely nothing for the children in need.

Parents know the real issues: their children’s safety, their academic success, their mental health, their access to programs and enrichment, and so many others. All of these issues are complicated and nuanced, and require honest and forthright leadership. They require thoughtful and responsive school board members coming together to collaborate with an active and engaged community. They demand that diverse opinions be heard and shared.

But what these issues don’t require is a small group with its members attempting to hijack the conversation, forcing their personal parental decisions about their children onto every child, injecting fear and hurling baseless accusations.


Attendees of Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s “Parents Matter” town hall meeting raise their hands for an opportunity to speak during the event held at Crestview Elementary School on Aug. 8.

I strongly encourage all parents to pay attention at the polls this November. And leading up to Election Day, they should think about whom they want to serve them, their schools and their students. Get to know your candidates and ask them serious questions. And when you attend events like the governor’s “Parents Matter” meetings, listen carefully to the messaging. Does it make sense? Is a real issue being addressed, or are you just watching a political slugfest masquerading as a legitimate discussion? And perhaps most importantly, has that cynical approach trickled down to your school board candidates?

School boards have built a platform for parents to use, and I call on you to use it. Stay engaged and stay involved. Speak to your local school board candidates and vote accordingly. Our children’s future depends on it.

Sarah Gross is board chair of We the People for Education, a Virginia-based nonprofit advocacy group. Contact Gross at [email protected].

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