(The Center Square) – Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin outlined and defended his stance on a range of education topics, including Critical Race Theory and transgender students in sports, during a CNN town hall Thursday night.
The Republican governor, who is just over a year into his term, fielded questions from students, teachers and parents across the commonwealth in a town hall titled “The War Over Education.”
At several points during the evening, the governor doubled down on his stance of parental involvement in education – a position that became a central part of his gubernatorial campaign.
“Parents matter, and parents deserve not only to be at the table, but they deserve to have the head seat at the table,” Youngkin said at the start of the event.
The town hall came as speculation grows over whether Youngkin is mulling a presidential run in 2024. When asked directly whether he was planning on running for higher office, the governor did not rule out a presidential run, but responded that Virginia is his “focus” right now.
Youngkin touted investments in education several times during the event, including $30 million in federal pandemic funding announced this week that qualifying families can use to pay for tutoring for their children to combat pandemic learning loss. Youngkin’s office also announced this week the first 13 grants to develop “lab schools” in the commonwealth, which are formed by a partnership between public K-12 schools and colleges.
The governor fielded several questions surrounding the first executive order he signed when taking office, which bans “inherently divisive concepts, including Critical Race Theory,” from being taught in schools. Critical Race Theory is an academic framework that teaches racism is systemic in law, policies and institutions.
Youngkin defended his executive order and stance on CRT, saying it was a “chance to make sure that we’re not pitting our children against one another based on race or religion or sex, but teaching all history – the good and the bad.”
CNN’s Jake Tapper pressed Youngkin on how teachers should approach teaching about historical injustices and the difference between teaching on the long-term impacts of racism and CRT.
Youngkin responded “we must step back and teach all that, and then we have to recognize where we are today.”
The governor also addressed his request that the Virginia Department of Education review the new Advanced Placement African American Studies class, which Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis banned. Youngkin said he doesn’t have any “specific concerns” about the course, insisting the review is to make sure “there aren’t inherently divisive concepts that are used in the teaching of this AP course.”
“I have no reason to believe, given the changes that I know have been made to that course, that it won’t be fine,” Youngkin said.
The governor also defended the state’s history standards, which have been subject to pushback. Youngkin said he is “pleased” with the standards, and said they teach “all of our history – the good and the bad.”
Some Virginians raised concern about certain versions of the standards, saying it omitted key figures and historical events. The Virginia Board of Education recently adopted a third draft of the history standards, arguing this version tells a “more complete story.” The board is set to begin public hearings this week on the standards and are expected to vote on final approval in April.
Youngkin also faced questions about policies impacting transgender students. The Republican governor defended guidelines released last fall requiring students to use bathrooms and play on sports teams that align with biological sex, not gender identity. The policy also directs schools to inform parents before counseling services are offered to students related to gender identity.
The governor was questioned during the town hall by a student name Niko, a 17-year-old transgender student from Arlington, regarding these policies.
“Look at me. I am a transgender man,” Niko said. “Do you really think that the girls in my high school would feel comfortable sharing a restroom with me?”
Youngkin responded saying he believes schools should offer “gender neutral” bathrooms to accommodate students, but said he thinks sports are “very clear.”
“I don’t think that biological boys should be playing sports with biological girls,” Youngkin said. “There’s been decades of efforts in order to gain opportunities for women in sports, and it’s just unfair. And I think that’s not controversial.”
In response to other questions, Youngkin said he would have signed a bill that was killed during the legislative session that would have directed the Department of Education to create model policies for the “selection and removal” of books from school libraries. The governor also highlighted proposed funding to increase Narcan supplies in the commonwealth in response to a scourge of fentanyl-related overdose deaths.