Patti Hidalgo Menders may be the president of the largest Republican Women’s club in Virginia, as well as a media commentator for outlets looking to get the Loudoun County scoop, but she joined the fight against critical race theory (CRT) like anyone else: As a parent deeply worried for her community.
Menders and I met in June at an “Education, Not Indoctrination” rally in Leesburg, Va., which her group helped organize to encourage Loudouners to sign school board recall petitions for officials pushing CRT. She introduced speakers, which included parents, teachers, and national activists, and stayed around afterward to speak with the media. She is an integral part of the “Army of Moms,” a bold new catchphrase in Loudoun.
The daughter of immigrants who fled communist Cuba in 1964 and settled in Atlanta government projects, she described to me both her belief in the American Dream and that CRT is antithetical to judging others on the content of their character—not skin.
“When I see this government overreach, it resonates with me because that’s what they did in Cuba,” Menders said. “The militia raided my parents’ home three times looking for evidence that my father worked for the underground movement—which he did. My mother would sew the underground movement’s money in the curtain or put it in the lamppost,”
It feels like her story has come full circle in some ways. Her parents were deemed enemies of a Communist state, and she has been plotted against by taxpayer-funded officials in the United States.
Little did the club president know when she began showing up to school board meetings, encouraging parents to speak out against the rise of politically correct education, that she would be blacklisted in a 624-member private Facebook group. The group was called “Anti-Racist Parents of Loudoun County” and it aimed to “infiltrate” and employ “hackers” to quash the opposition’s communications and “expose these people publicly.”
Loudoun County is just one Virginia area that has emerged as a national representation of the CRT battle in America, with clips seemingly going viral every week. The district sent hundreds of thousands of dollars to “equity consultants” in 2019, which was joined by a reform agenda calling for “a racially conscious, identity-affirming and culturally responsive learning space for every student and employee.”
Led by Fight for Schools, a political action committee whose executive director Ian Prior was a senior official in the Trump administration’s Justice Department, community members in the northern Virginia county are taking a stand. Their goal is to recall six school board members. Yet not all residents think it’s possible to win this fight.
Brian Davison, who successfully sued the chairwoman of the Loudoun County Public Schools board of supervisors for blocking him on Facebook in a case that made national headlines, told The Federalist Virginia has no effective recall statute for “incompetence” of “unpopularity.”
“None of the targeted candidates have violated any constitutional rules,” Davison said. “Having litigated FOIA [Freedom of Information Act] laws in state court, it makes clear what is required to constitute an illegal meeting.”
However, Prior indicated to The Federalist that Fight for Schools holds that school board members who joined a second private Facebook group violated Virginia open meetings law, the Virginia and U.S. Constitutions, and their own code of conduct.
“We are confident that we will succeed in court on all cases, especially because these violations go to their core functions as elected officials that require community trust to properly perform their job in a representative democracy,” Prior said.
How did the backlash begin? The schools were shuttered during coronavirus lockdowns, and parents had greater access to what their children were learning. What they discovered has taken the United States by storm. A 2019 “equity assessment” was now in public view.
“We wanted [schooling] in person. I had members send me screenshots and videos of what teachers were teaching. One in particular that brought a lot of notoriety to this area was a teacher who had on the screen a redhead white girl and a black girl, and asked ‘What is race?’ And the student was like, ‘I see just two people chillin’.’ The teacher was pressuring the child to look at the two different colors.”
“They kept saying that critical race theory was not taught in the schools,” Menders added. “We kept finding the fact that, yes, they were training teachers. So, the more evidence we showed, the more parents were like ‘we’ve got to stop these people.'”
Scott Mineo, a Loudoun resident who founded the group Parents Against Critical Race Theory, said in an interview it all can be traced back to the equity assessment.
“Teachers went back to school in the fall of 2019 and they had to undergo implicit bias training,” Mineo said. “That just set off the red flags to people. The need was created around the false narrative out of a report produced by the Equity Collaborative.”
Mineo noted that the growth of the Republican women’s club “has been explosive for the past 18 months and has invigorated many people that were previously uninvolved in politics and communal issues.”
Mender, its president, has made a name for herself in Loudoun from persistent boots-on-the-ground activism, facilitating meetings and rallies. She has also emerged on the national scale as an intermediary between the Virginia county and the country, making appearances on Fox News, Glenn Beck, ABC Nightline, and others.
But it wasn’t always like this in Loudoun. Menders, a mom of three sons, moved to the area in 1999 because of its academic reputation. She lived paycheck to paycheck, she said, in the most expensive county in the nation before remarrying a man with three boys of his own.
“1999 was the boom of the housing market,” Menders said. “Everybody was young families. It was a great place to raise a family, it was just so cute. Teachers were flocking there. The computers were brand new. It wasn’t very political. It had a private school feel because of the teacher-to-student ratio.”
“Now, it’s so divisive,” Menders also said. “So in your face. It’s really ugly now the way people treat each other. There’s a lot of families who want to leave.”
Times have clearly changed. Parents like Menders are up against a movement led by powerful elites intent on silencing the opposition. In late June, this was on full display when school board members cut off public comment during a meeting on transgender policies. There will be a vote on Aug. 10 regarding whether public schools employees will have to use students’ “preferred pronouns” and permit them to use the restroom of the opposite sex.
Here is what really fired up Loudouners that day: Community members are typically given the opportunity to register for public comment on the Loudoun County Public Schools website. But, according to Menders, the district released the registration a day earlier, and only those in support of the controversial policy were able to get speaking spots.
So parents spoke anyway, and the board shut down public comment. Two attendees were arrested at the meeting for not complying with the board’s orders.
While it was a frustrating time for Menders and others who are seeking to get their voices heard in Loudoun, it was also a moment to come together. So they all sang “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
— Ian Prior (@iandprior) June 22, 2021
“They said they would silence the opposition, and they did,” Menders told me. “They said it was war with the parents, it showed in their actions. So when they shut it down, the fact that we decided to stay, it shows that we’re not going to let corrupt politicians, board members, give or take away our rights.”
“The reason is, we live in America. Land of the free, home of the brave,” she also said.