I read with concern the Gazette’s coverage of Meg Bryce’s candidacy for Albemarle’s at-large school board seat. I applaud Dr. Bryce’s decision as a citizen to step up and run for office, and as an American, she’s entitled to advocate for her views. The achievement gaps she mentions are real and concerning for parents across the political spectrum. But the Gazette owes its readers not just a faithful account of what a candidate says, but also some measure of the context and factual accuracy behind their words.
What are Dr. Bryce’s specific objections to our schools’ policy on transgender students,1 which—as it should!—already contains kind and reasonable accommodations for any student uncomfortable about sharing a bathroom or locker room with trans students, and carefully balances the well-being of its students with their parents’ rights? When she mentions her and other parents’ opposition to anti-racism initiatives, or COVID-19 safety measures, can she or the Gazette tell us whether the views she feels the board ignored represented a majority of the community, or a vocal minority? In a district where students hail from 96 different countries of origin and speak 73 different languages at home, what are her exact concerns about the board’s efforts to embrace that diversity?
I’m a parent of current and rising ACPS students, and I personally want my kids’ schools to engage them in conversations about issues that have shaped our country’s past and echoed into its present. I want them to learn from the past so that they can forge a better future, not hide their heads in the sand. And as part of a family with multiple higher-risk factors for COVID, I’m OK with the board erring on the side of caution in its efforts to protect students and their families. Dr. Bryce is free to disagree with me, but the Gazette should at least make clear to its audience that plenty of other people locally have seen the same events she has and reached very different conclusions.
The Gazette further fails to note Dr. Bryce’s position as one of the wave of right- wing challengers recently seeking election to school boards nationwide. At least some of the issues Dr. Bryce cites as her reasons for running are the exact talking points candidates such as these have sought to exploit. In nearby Spotsylvania County, the new hard-right leadership of the board fired their previous superintendent; the replacement has no educational experience.2 It’s slashed the school budget3 and plans to lay off teachers, especially in special education — which is a step up from its previous threat to close all school libraries. Candidates espousing similar views as Dr. Bryce have pushed for book bans and driven away qualified teachers,4 even in deeply conservative states like South Dakota.
The Gazette’s readers might also deserve to know about the comparatively vast sums of money she’s raised from a relative handful of donors. Departing at-large member Jonno Alcaro raised a total of $3,108 in all of his previous elections combined, according to the Virginia Public Access Project. As of the most recent reporting period, Dr. Bryce has raised $18,490 in just a few months. That’s a great deal of concern about educational outcomes for students.
When David Oberg stepped down from his post as the board’s White Hall representative, I was one of the candidates who applied to the board to replace him. In my reading and research to prepare for that opportunity, I learned that the best school board members don’t bring an agenda or an axe to grind. They avoid partisanship and hot-button issues to focus on solving problems and ensuring that every student thrives. They don’t represent a given constituency within their community; they work together, hashing out their differences, to benefit everyone. I heard multiple current school board members express these same views spontaneously, independently, and earnestly in my conversations with them. That approach seems at odds with at least some of Dr. Bryce’s stated positions.
I hope the Gazette will apply greater scrutiny to Dr. Bryce; to her rival, Allison Spillman; and to all candidates you profile. Your readers and our community depend on you to help us make informed decisions about our future.
By the way: I’m the newsletter editor for the Albemarle County Democrats, and I volunteer frequently for Democratic campaigns. And by disclosing that, as I ought to, I’m being more forthcoming about my affiliations than Dr. Bryce is.