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by Brandon Jarvis

Democratic gubernatorial nominee Terry McAuliffe is facing attacks from Republicans for saying he does not believe parents should be deciding what is taught in Virginia’s classrooms during Tuesday night’s debate. The Republicans on the other hand have been rallying their base in recent months by pushing for more involvement from parents at the local level in deciding public school curriculum and policies.

McAuliffe is running in a tight race against Republican nominee Glenn Youngkin to keep the Executive Mansion in Democratic control for a third straight term. 

“You believe school systems should tell children what to do. “I believe parents should be in charge of their kids’ education,” Youngkin said to McAuliffe during the debate. 

“I am not going to let parents come into schools and actually take books out and make their own decision,“ McAuliffe responded. “So yeah I stopped the bill that I don’t think parents should be telling schools what they should teach.” 

The bill that Youngkin and McAuliffe are referring to is from 2016 and would have made Virginia the first state in the country to allow parents to block their children from reading books in school that contain sexually explicit material. 

“School boards are best positioned to ensure that our students are exposed to those appropriate literary and artistic works that will expand students’ horizons and enrich their learning experiences,” McAuliffe said at the time. 

Parents, and prominent Republicans like Youngkin and his supporters, have been attending school board meetings across the commonwealth in droves to protest mask mandates, Critical Race Theory, transgender-friendly legislation, and other potential policy ideas they disagree with. 

But the difference in principle between McAuliffe wanting to stand up to those parents, and Youngkin wanting to stand up against state-mandated policies in schools under a Democratic administration isn’t exactly non-partisan. McAuliffe essentially wants to keep the conservative, vocal parents from making changes to the education system while Youngkin wants to give parents the power to push back against potential progressive-policy changes that he says are being pushed by Democrats.

“To compare parents’ involvement in their children’s lives to radical politics and government indoctrinating kids is absurd and nonsensical,” said Macaulay Porter, a spokeswoman for Youngkin. “Glenn is focused on restoring academic excellence, giving parents a say in their children’s lives, and investing with the largest education budget in Virginia’s history. Meanwhile, McAuliffe is focused on government control and shutting parents out of the education system.”

Youngkin released a new ad Wednesday highlighting the comments from McAuliffe during the debate. A text was also sent to Virginia voters Wednesday afternoon with a link to the video. 

“Did you see this?? Terry McAuliffe said he does not believe parents should have a say in their children’s education,” the text reads. “He doesn’t think parents have a right to know what their kids learn at school! That’s dangerous and too radical for Virginia.“ 

The text does not indicate who paid for it, but it links to a Youtube video from Youngkin’s account. His campaign did not immediately respond to questions about their potential involvement with the text. 

McAuliffe’s campaign said Wednesday night in a statement that schools would end up being shut down under a Youngkin administration because of his stance on not requiring COVID-19 vaccines. “If anti-vaccine advocate Glenn Youngkin had his way, our schools would be closing, children would be sick and quarantined, and our economy would be in the ditch,” said Renzo Olivari, a spokesperson for McAuliffe. “Terry McAuliffe is the only candidate with a real plan to end this pandemic, keep kids safe, and give every Virginia child a world-class education.” 

While Youngkin has pushed back against any type of vaccine mandate, he has received the shot himself and encourages people to get it. “I would not have a vaccine passport in Virginia, I don’t believe in it,” Youngkin said in a statement this summer. He reaffirmed that stance Tuesday night during the debate.

Youngkin’s education plan places an emphasis on preserving advanced math classes and the use of advanced diplomas, banning Critical Race Theory, increasing the number of academic-year governor’s schools, and improving school measurement metrics. 

McAuliffe wants to increase investments in public schools to raise teacher pay, increase access to Pre-K programs, and increase access to broadband internet.

There are less than five weeks until Virginia voters go to the polls to choose their next governor, lieutenant governor, and attorney general. Additionally, all 100 seats in the House of Delegates are up for reelection. Democrats have had control of the General Assembly and Executive Mansion for the last two years and have passed seeing progressive legislation during that time. Now they are trying to make sure that the Republicans don’t win and stifle some of the progress they made.

Meanwhile, Republicans are looking to capitalize on potential pushback from the new progressive laws and a Democratic White House to help them earn enough votes for the first statewide win their party has seen since 2009.

Early voting began Sept. 17 for the Nov. 2 election. 

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By vascope