In what Northern Virginia parental rights advocate Asra Nomani branded “a reprehensible display of bigotry and xenophobia,” Sen. John Edwards (D-Roanoke) joined his fellow 21 Democrats in the Virginia Senate on February 7 to remove Indian immigrant Ms. Suparna Dutta from the influential State Board of Education.
Democrats’ professed concern for immigrants, women, the oppressed, and people of color makes this story all the more shocking.
Nomani, writing in her substack “Asra Investigates,” gives this background story:
“On Jan. 20, 2023, the bill, SJ 276, was presented with Suparna’s name to the Virginia Board of Education. She has been an “accidental activist” ignored like so many of us by the UnFairfaXXX [sic] County School Board. She represented the kind of diversity the Woke Army claims it wants but really doesn’t when it’s from those of us who refuse their propaganda.”
The ability to name appointees to such boards is part of the authority of the governor. However, as at the federal level, such appointees from the executive branch (president or governor) require senate approval (legislative branch).
Of particular interest to Southwest Virginia, one of the new appointees is Dr. H. Alan Seibert, the widely-respected former Salem City Schools Superintendent who retired from that position after 30 years of service in 2021.
However, the appointment that drew the most fireworks was that of Ms. Suparna Dutta, a Fairfax County resident. Dutta is an immigrant from South Asia, an advocate for STEM education, and a mother. The fact that she has immigrated from India to the US, adapted well here, and was appointed to a powerful board by the governor in her new country shows her intelligence, resourcefulness, and ability to work cross-culturally. Due to recent attacks against parents’ rights, meritocracy in education, and what many view as discrimination and bigotry against Asian-Americans, Dutta became part of the parental rights’ movement.
Reflecting the originally noncontroversial nature of the nominations, on Jan. 31 lawmakers in the Virginia Senate Privileges and Elections Committee approved Dutta’s nomination 14-0.
The next day, however, tensions rose at a meeting of the Virginia Board of Education. Suparna, an immigrant to the US and political neophyte, daringly went toe-to-toe with a politically-entrenched board member, Roanoke-born Anne Holton. Holton is both the daughter of a former governor, but also wife to Virginia’s junior Senator, Democrat Sen. Tim Kaine. In what many find a shocking choice of words, Holton reprimanded Suparna for her meeting “hygiene.”
Speaking up for overloaded and fed-up parents, Dutta told the Board, “Parents are worn out between working, making a living, and keeping tabs on what’s being taught in the classroom.” Dutta also referenced the historic Virginia 2021 elections that were driven largely by the parents’ rights community and implied that election delivered a mandate for more parental rights and educational reforms.
In the Board meeting, some contentious issues were the roles and significance that the US Declaration of Independence and Constitution should have in school curricula, and how socialism and communism should be presented. Dutta, speaking from her first-hand experience in South Asia, explained she had “grown up in a country with remnants of colonialism, and a lot of socialism.” Dutta enthusiastically supported the Declaration and Constitution as praiseworthy documents with historic results.
In contrast, Holton made national headlines by making the shock claim that the Declaration and Constitution are not “remarkable” documents. Seemingly trying to defend their comments that many find repugnant, Holton and some other Board members pointed out that the original Constitution included the odious “Three-Fifth Compromise.” However, they did not mention that that portion was later stricken from the Constitution, because that very document provides a way for its text to be amended. Plus, it was not mentioned that if students are given a robust history education they will be able to study the context and backgrounds of such historical events.
The fact that the Constitution, which came into force in 1789 and is thus the world’s longest-used Constitution, was not cited in the discussion. However, that fact alone proves it to be “remarkable.” Also, many other nations since have patterned their founding documents after ours.
On the question of, “Are socialism and democracy compatible?” Holton argued that they are. Holton has a valid point, in that many European nations such as Norway and Denmark have healthy democracies but are socialist in that they have socialized medicine, free or reduced college tuition, etc. The degree to which those attempts have succeeded (or not) is highly debatable.
Dutta countered, however, that “socialism” is on the same continuum as communism, but not to the same extreme degree.
Holton’s claims to denigrate the significance of America’s founding documents is ironic on several levels. First, the Constitution enshrines the concept of federalism, that separates powers on three levels and entrusts states with great powers, as in the often-ignored Tenth Amendment. Holton’s own father, former Governor Lynwood Holton (R), was a beneficiary of that because he had great powers as a state chief executive. Holton’s husband, Sen. Kaine, was earlier the Commonwealth’s governor so Holton had the rare experience of living in the historic Governor’s Mansion twice: once as a child (1970-1974) and again as a First Lady (2006-2010).
Second, the Constitution set up the US Congress, where Kaine is finishing his second, six-year term in the Senate and he recently announced his intention to run for re-election in 2024. Had not their bid for the White House failed in 2016, Kaine would have been vice president to Hillary Clinton; the Constitution set up those positions too. Moreover, when taking the oath of office, Kaine and all other members of Congress pledge to defend and uphold the . . . Constitution.
Third, the gravest-ever threat to the US and our Constitution came when 11 southern states seceded and formed the Confederacy. It took four years of bloody war and some 600,000 Americans dead to restore the Union.
As Nomani has pointed out, after being egged on by Holton and given a last-minute amendment from Sen. Ghazala F. Hashmi, Senate Democrats later changed their minds on Dutta’s candidacy and voted party-line 22 to 18 to boot her off the board.
Outraged, Governor Youngkin blasted the move. “They voted to remove Suparna Dutta, shockingly claiming that a public school parent isn’t qualified to serve on the Board of Education. She is a mother and advocate for parents’ rights, she is an immigrant and an advocate for Asian American rights, she is an engineer and advocate for STEM in education. She is not only qualified, she epitomizes parental involvement in our schools and we need her voice on our Board of Education. . . . Democrats are repeating loudly their clear beliefs: parents don’t matter, criminals first victims last, and petty politics above Virginia’s best interests. It’s shameful. Virginians deserve so much better.”
As reported here, Sen. Edwards has announced his retirement from the Virginia Senate after 28 years. The Roanoke Star has reached out to the office of Sen. Edwards for a statement about that decision, but no response has been received either from the senator or his chief of staff, Roanoke City councilmember Luke Priddy.