Do Not Discount the Anger Over School Shutdowns

by James A. Bacon

Arlington County is one of the “bluest” localities in Virginia, exceeded in its propensity to vote Democratic (81% in the 2020 election) only by black-majority cities like Richmond and Petersburg and the Berkeley of the East Coast also known as Charlottesville. (The way things are heading, I soon may be compelled to refer to Berkeley as the Charlottesville of the West Coast.) But the level of dissatisfaction with the Arlington County School Board’s handling of the COVID-19 school shutdown has many Arlington parents up in arms.

I have issues with mainstreaming autistic children with major behavioral problems, but I think it’s a good thing to try if the children can exhibit a modicum of self control. Whatever one’s view of the matter, it is heart-breaking to hear what happened to Reade Bush’s autistic son when deprived of social interaction during Arlington’s fling with distance learning.

As Bush testified to the U.S. House Labor and Education Committee last week, the social isolation was devastating. His son lost sleep, lost social skills, lost his love of learning, and lost his grip on reality. He created an imaginary world with 52 friends. On his ninth birthday, he asked his father, “Daddy, can I die for my birthday?” In November Arlington schools began providing partial in-person learning for students with disabilities, and the lad’s situation has stabilized. But Bush says his son is a full year behind in reading, reports ArlNow. 

Watch the video and then read the comments on the ArlNow story. Dozens of parents excoriate the Arlington School Board for across-the-board failure. Some equate the board’s actions to child neglect and abuse. Nary a dissenting word is heard.

It is no exaggeration to say that many parents are disgusted. How will that sentiment play out in General Assembly and statewide elections this fall? I don’t know the region well enough to say with any confidence, but it cannot possibly help Democrat candidates, virtually all of whom have lined up behind the educational establishment.

Forgive me for a moment while I engage in some conjecture about the political economy of Virginia. Arlington, Alexandria and Fairfax County are super-Democratic and super-woke. But there’s a conflict. This is one of the most highly educated population centers in the country. Residents place a tremendously high value on educating their children, and they tolerate high taxes in order to pay for what they expect to be good schools. If politicians threaten the quality of public education, whether through COVID shutdowns or implementation of “equity” practices that harm kids’ chance of getting into Harvard or the University of Virginia, they’re asking for trouble.

Screwing up the schools is literally the one and only thing that the Democratic establishment in Northern Virginia could do alienate voters enough to push large numbers into the Republican camp.

There is a difference between Northern Virginia Democrats and, say, Peoples Republic of Charlottesville Democrats. Many Charlottesville Democrats, exposed to the lunacy emanating from the University of Virginia, are extremist burn-down-the-house anarchists. They are beyond reason. They live in ideological bubbles that reality cannot penetrate. Northern Virginia is different. Northern Virginians are well-to-do. They don’t want to burn down the house. They run the house. Feeding at the trough of government, they like policies that grow the power, scope and influence of government, but they don’t want to pull a Samson and bring down the entire edifice.

I don’t think Arlington, Alexandria and Fairfax County will ever turn red in our lifetimes, but I sense that we have reached an inflection point. There will be consequences at the local level, and the electoral monolith could start showing a few cracks. Perhaps I’m just fantasizing. We’ll see.