Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin chose two critics of critical race theory for top leadership positions within the Virginia Department of Education, sticking to campaign promises to ban the curriculum.
“Jillian and Elizabeth are going to be crucial in helping Secretary of Education Aimee Guidera restore excellence in education,” Youngkin said Thursday, ahead of his inauguration as governor on Saturday. “Under my direction, they will get to work on ensuring our schools remain safely open, ban critical race theory and political agendas from our classrooms, and rebuild our crumbling schools.”
He chose Jillian Balow to serve as superintendent of public instruction and Elizabeth Schultz as assistant superintendent of public instruction.
Balow is a Wyoming native and served as the state’s superintendent of public instruction for seven years until Youngkin asked her to serve in Virginia. She has also served as a national literacy consultant, a policy adviser to former Republican Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead and is an advocate of full transparency of teachers’ curricula.
Balow is a vocal critic of critical race theory. She supported legislation to weed out the curriculum in Wyoming schools last year and require schools to publish lists of instructional material, saying “K-12 classrooms are not an appropriate forum for radical political theory such as CRT.”
“When it comes to politics in the classroom, I’ve made my position crystal clear that partisan politics and radical theories should not be forced upon our children,” Balow said in her Thursday statement announcing her resignation.
Schultz will serve as Balow’s deputy. She is a former Fairfax School Board member and senior fellow for Parents Defending Education, a national nonprofit that works to “reclaim our schools from activists promoting harmful agendas.”
She published an op-ed in June denouncing CRT in Virginia schools, saying it “divides people” and is “advancing Marxist ideology that, by default, all interactions are derived from racism, our history and nation is built on racism, and all inequities are, yes, ascribed to racism.”
Youngkin’s first appointment to his administration came last month, when he named Aimee Rogstad Guidera as education secretary. He said at the time that she “will be a critical partner in restoring expectations of excellence … and standing for a curriculum that prepares Virginia’s children for a dynamic future and removes politics from the classroom.”
She is described as a “principled conservative” and is an advocate of using data to shape education policy.
“She’s a principled conservative who is interested in solving problems and empowering parents and making sure schools are accountable and transparent and promoting rigor,” Frederick Hess, director of Education Policy Studies at the American Enterprise Institute, told the Washington Post last month.
“I don’t think this is something that given her druthers she would prefer to focus on, but she refuses to bullied,” he added. “Aimee is somebody who has never been interested in culture war for its own sake but as a principled conservative, when push comes to shove and it’s a question of whether kids are being taught whether American history and the world should be understood through the lens of race, I think she finds this to be problematic just as Youngkin does.”
A self-proclaimed “political outsider,” Youngkin vowed to ban critical race theory last year in Virginia schools if elected governor.
“We know in our hearts it’s wrong,” Youngkin said in October of the curriculum. “Dr. Martin Luther King implored us to judge one another based on the content of our character and not the color of our skin. Therefore, on day one, I will ban critical race theory in our schools.”
He’s stuck to his campaign promise with the appointments as well as through a bevy of executive orders he signed on Saturday.
He signed 11 executive orders on his first day in office, including one banning the teaching of critical race theory and another lifting a mask mandate in public schools.
“Executive Order Number One delivers on his Day One promise to restore excellence in education by ending the use of divisive concepts, including Critical Race Theory, in public education,” a press release from Youngkin’s office states.
“Executive Order Number Two delivers on his Day One promise to empower Virginia parents in their children’s education and upbringing by allowing parents to make decisions on whether their child wears a mask in school,” the release added.
Youngkin’s early moves as governor stands in stark contrast to the Biden administration’s stances on critical race theory and education policies.
President Biden reversed former President Donald Trump’s executive order banning curriculum for the federal government and contractors on systemic racism and other race and gender bias and appointed a pro-critical race theory activist to the Department of Education in October. The administration has also come under fire for a letter from the National School Boards Association last year that compared protesting parents to domestic terrorists, and prompted the DOJ to direct the FBI to mobilize in support of education officials.