mad

Former Fairfax County school board member Elizabeth Schultz, local mother Suparna Dutta and local author Asra Nomani celebrate during the Youngkin victory party.

 

With the DJ pumping out rock band Huey Lewis and the News’ 1980s hit song, “The Power of Love,” local mother Suparna Dutta was grinning ear to ear in a ballroom at the Westfields Marriott on election night. The results had just scrolled across the TV monitors in the ballroom here at local Republican Glenn Youngkin’s election watch party. Youngkin was the winner and the crowd roared approvingly, including Dutta. 

 

Little did Youngkin know but the groundwork for his victory was actually laid on June 7, 2020, months before he even decided to run for office, with a mother who would become one of the many “hopping mad” parents in a mama and papa bear movement that would bring him to office.

 

That June night, Ann Bonitatibus, the white principal at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, sent a “call to action” to our mostly Asian, mostly immigrant parents and told us we needed to check our “privileges,” remove the school’s Colonial mascot as a “symbol that perpetuated racism” and gerrymander admissions so the school’s racial demographics matched the county’s racial demographics – with our 70 percent Asian student body much higher than the county’s 20 percent Asian population.

 

The tragedy of George Floyd’s killing in late May 2020 gave administrators like the TJ principal just the moral high ground they needed to ram their policy changes through school systems, with parents conveniently distracted managing the crisis of the COVID-19 pandemic.

 

That’s when Democrat operatives in Virginia set their aim on America’s No. 1 high school, Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology. The day of the principal’s letter, a local Democratic political operative named Lowell Feld published a false headline on a blog Blue Virginia that he’d started, dedicated to “Virginia politics from a progressive and Democratic perspective.” He didn’t respond to requests for comment. The headline claimed “ZERO African Americans” had been granted admission to the school. Washington Post reporter Hannah Natanson tweeted out the false information, soliciting outrage. The headline is still up.

 

Reading the principal’s letter, parents from China had traumatic flashbacks to their childhoods when government leaders shamed them during the brutal Cultural Revolution of the 1960s and 1970s, when Mao Tse-Tung, the leader of the Chinese Communist Party, waged a bloody purge of the nation’s intellectuals, weaponizing an army of youth into a paramilitary movement called the Red Guards. Children would turn in their parents, teachers, and other adults for holding ideas that questioned Mao.

 

The next morning, another TJ mother wrote to the principal, telling her that her activist agenda was off the mark: “After not sleeping at all last night, I'm hopping mad!!”

 

Dutta and her husband dispatched a letter to the principal, noting: “Your message espouses a sham, reductionist view of history and the problems of inequality and injustice which, in our view, belittles the intelligence and values of many of your students and their parents.”

 

Almost two weeks later, on June 19, I testified for the first time to the Fairfax County Public Schools’ school board, all 12 members endorsed by the Democratic Party, warning them that our school faced a race war fomented by our principal and a few activist alumni. A former reporter for the Wall Street Journal, I began investigating what was behind this “call to action.”

 

A TJ father, Glenn Miller, told me, “There are three words you have to know to understand what is driving this activism: critical race theory.” In the 1980s, Glenn was a student at Harvard Law School as a professor, Derrick Bell, started teaching the nascent field of “critical race theory,” teaching that all of society’s ills can be viewed through the lens of race, as the principal was now viewing the admissions’ issue. The theory hadn’t yet become a household name. Dutta was also learning about it.

 

For all the demonization of Republicans for opposing critical race theory, it’s Democratic political operatives who have pushed critical race theory, from school boards to social studies classrooms. Democratic policymakers in Richmond seized on the social justice moment of the George Floyd killing. Atif Qarni, Virginia’s Secretary of Education, urged readers to “check out” language inserted into the 2020 state budget bill for “diversity” at “Governor’s Schools” such as TJ. 

 

A group of TJ alumni activists, calling themselves, “TJ Alumni Action Group,” and affiliated with the local Fairfax County Democratic Committee, weaponized the false news of the admissions numbers to push for admissions changes, including a call to “Occupy TJ” and even dismantle the school completely. Dutta watched these developments, shocked by the subterfuge in the process. 

 

The next week, Dutta spoke to the school board for the first time ever, expressing her opposition. She was so nervous she couldn’t figure out how to turn on her video, but yet she persisted. I testified again to the board, this time telling them that K-12 students are in the crosshairs of a “Woke Inc.” industry, selling the snake oil activism of “critical race theory.” 

 

In late August 2020, as Youngkin’s campaign was in its most nascent stage, we established a grassroots organization, Coalition for TJ, to advocate for diversity and excellence at TJ. Through the fall and winter, our parents held protests at the school and testified to the school board, state legislature, and office of the Virginia Education Secretary Atif Qarni, only to be dismissed, smeared, muted, and treated like dirt. Dutta had become an accidental activist, rallying parents to our protests. We coordinated with many other local parents who had organized another new group, Open FCPS, to convince the school board to open the schools.

 

One morning, as a group of our Coalition for TJ parents, including Dutta, readied to speak to Virginia Governor Ralph Northam, we got bad news. Northam was canceling the meeting. For many of our parents, they overcame cultural barriers, challenging authority, and their activism came from a place of moral courage. As Asian parents, we faced disparaging references to us as “Asian tiger moms,” so one day I thought: let us embrace our sacred duty as “mama bears” and “papa bears,” and our new moniker was born.

 

In spring 2021, as Democratic and Republican lawmakers canvassed to win the nomination for governor and lieutenant governor, our parents organized debates. None of the Democratic candidates appeared. We asked McAuliffe’s campaign for a meeting. His staffer told one of our members that the campaign had a suggested contribution of $25,000 for a one-hour virtual visit. Our group balked. 

 

Meanwhile, Youngkin met with parents, expressing his support for a merit-based admission to TJ. When Youngkin won the Republican Committees’ nomination, Dutta raised her hand to volunteer to lead an Educators for Youngkin Coalition. She worked tirelessly, organizing webinars and door-knocking for Youngkin, going from being an anonymous mother to introducing him this past week to a crowd of about 500 cheering supporters in his last campaign stop in Fairfax County. 

 

Everywhere, mama bears and papa bears were facing a national strategy network of activists and educrats hijacking schools with their agendas. That cycle broke election night. 

 

In the Marriott ballroom, Dutta embraced friends, old and new, as I did a TV interview about our parents’ campaign, wearing a shirt to which I’d added the words: “Mama and Papa Bear Movement.”

 

Later, Dutta stood in front of the stage, shoulder to shoulder with so many parents whom school board, school, and state education officials have ignored, belittled, and dismissed since June 2020. She and this new movement of “hopping mad” mama and papa bears had defeated the machine that had been silencing us for so long. As Youngkin shook hands with his fans after his acceptance speech, he saw my shirt, interlocked his fingers together as if in prayer, and, with his hands clasped, declared, “Way to go, mama bears! You guys were awesome.”

 

Indeed, nearby, Dutta was a manifestation of awesome: humble, courageous, resilient, and determined. “I’m so happy,” she said, grinning. 

 

Dutta is the living embodiment of the best of a mama bear and the American Dream, expressing it, protecting it, and allowing her teen son a late night so he could be a part of history, before scooping him up and taking him safely home, to awaken to the new day that she and the mama and papa bear movement had forged for the Commonwealth of Virginia.

 

Asra Q. Nomani is a former reporter for the Wall Street Journal and vice president of strategy and investigations at Parents Defending Education, a national advocacy group. She can be reached at asra@asranomani.com.

(0) comments

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
PLEASE TURN OFF YOUR CAPS LOCK.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.