One man was arrested and another detained for trespassing after a fight broke out during a raucous school board meeting in Virginia that was disrupted by parents protesting against critical race theory and a proposed policy for transgender students' rights.
The Loudoun County School Board was forced to end the public comment section of its meeting on Tuesday evening after "loud public demonstrations violated the decorum of the meeting," the board said in a statement.
After the crowd ignored repeated warnings not to disrupt the meeting, the school board voted to end the public comment section, prompting people to chant "shame on you," point their middle fingers, and sing the national anthem in protest, NBC News4 reported.
A fight also broke out in the boardroom with one man physically threatening another attendee, Kraig Troxell, a spokesperson for the Loudoun County Sheriff's Office, told BuzzFeed News.
The 48-year-old man, identified as Scott T. Smith, continued to be disorderly and physically resisted attempts to take him into custody, Troxell said. He was charged with obstruction of justice and disorderly conduct.
School officials eventually declared the meeting an unlawful assembly and warned that those who did not leave would face trespassing charges.
One person who refused to leave was detained by deputies and later released on a summons for trespassing, Troxell said. Video footage from a Reuters reporter also showed the man resisting deputies' attempts to make him leave, saying, "This is an unlawful arrest. I have a First Amendment right."
Nearly 260 people had signed up to speak at the meeting where board members were set to discuss the adoption of a school policy that would require school staff and other students to address gender-expansive or transgender students by their chosen names and gender pronouns. The draft policy would also allow transgender students access to school facilities and activities that correspond to their gender identity.
However, many of the people in the audience used the meeting to protest against teaching critical race theory in Loudoun County schools — despite previous assurances from school board officials that it was not being taught in classrooms.
Critical race theory is an academic term that has been misappropriated by mostly white conservatives in the wake of the New York Times’ Pulitzer Prize–winning 1619 Project as a stand-in for almost any educational discussion that might frame US history through a critical racial lens.
Parents held up signs saying "We the parents stand up" and "Education not indoctrination." During the meeting, former Virginia state senator Dick Black spoke out against critical race theory, calling it "disgusting" to loud cheers from the audience, according to a video clip shared by a Reuters reporter.
Despite numerous requests for decorum, "those attending insisted on continued interruptions in an attempt to delay and disrupt the proceeding," Loudoun County School Board Chair Brenda L. Sheridan said in her closing remarks at the meeting.
"These politically motivated antics ought to end. But if they don’t, know that they won’t delay our work," Sheridan said.
"Tonight, the Loudoun County School Board meeting was interrupted by those who wish to use the public comment period to disrupt our work and disrespect each other," Sheridan said at the end of the meeting. "Dog-whistle politics will not delay our work. We will not back down from fighting for the rights of our students and continuing our focus on equity."
The Loudoun school district is at the center of the country's political and cultural flashpoint around critical race theory.
Fueled by efforts from conservative and right-wing activists to ban lessons and conversations around race, racism, and slavery, parents in Loudoun County have claimed that the school district's initiatives to combat systemic racism are proof that they are teaching critical race theory to students.
Superintendent Scott A. Ziegler was forced to clarify earlier this year that the school's equity initiatives were "not an effort to indoctrinate students and staff into a particular philosophy or theory."
Despite such assurances, some Loudoun County parents sued the school board earlier this month, accusing it of implementing "explicit racial distinctions between its students ... in the name of 'dismantling systemic racism.'"
After Tuesday's school board meeting devolved into chaos, Sheridan, the school board chair, said that "despite what the fearmongering media tells you — no — critical race theory is not being taught in our schools, period."
She accused opponents of the school board of "pushing false stories about critical race theory" that have resulted in death threats.
"I’m deeply concerned about the rise in hateful messages and violent threats aimed at progressive members of the school board," Sheridan said. "We recently saw KKK flyers in Fairfax, our own school board members are receiving graphic threats via email and voice mail, and parents who support our work are afraid to speak up."
Sheridan also expressed her support for the LGBTQIA community and students.
"Loudoun County is for learners and loud voices aiming to make our schools a political battleground will not silence the work for our students," she said.