A leader in the Virginia Parent Teacher Association who resigned after saying “let them die” during a speech attended by counter-protesters opposed to critical race theory being taught in schools says her comments were not aimed at them.
Michelle Leete, the Virginia PTA Vice President of Training, was asked to resign after she made the controversial comments in front of a crowd, according to a statement from the Virginia PTA. Leete is also a board member of the Fairfax, Virginia, NAACP.
Leete’s comments were captured in video taken outside Luther Jackson Middle School, where a Fairfax County Virginia school board meeting was held Thursday night.
“So let’s meet and remain steadfast in speaking truth, tearing down double standards, and refuting double talk,” Leete says in the video. “Let’s not allow any double-downing on lies. Let’s prepare our children for a world they deserve.
“Let’s deny this off-key band of people that are anti-education, anti-teacher, anti-equity, anti-history, anti-racial reckoning, anti-opportunities, anti-help people, anti-diversity, anti-platform, anti-science, anti-change agent, anti-social justice, anti-healthcare, anti-worker, anti-LGBTQ+, anti-children, anti-healthcare, anti-worker, anti-environment, anti-admissions policy change, anti-inclusion, anti-live-and-let live people. Let them die.”
The crowd of people cheered after her comments, according to a copy of the video obtained by CNN.
The Fairfax County School board was voting on updating guidelines for transgender students’ rights on Thursday. In a unanimous vote, the board ended up deciding to allow transgender students equitable rights, several key areas which include: accessing restroom and locker room facilities consistent with their gender identity, the right to non-disclosure of their gender identity and/or sexual orientation and the right to be called by their chosen names and pronouns.
A group protesting the teaching of critical race theory had also gathered outside the school at the time.
The video was filmed by Asra Nomani, a vice president at Parents Defending Education, which describes itself as “a national grassroots organization working to reclaim our schools from activists promoting harmful agendas.”
In a statement, the Virginia PTA said it did not condone Leete’s choice of words.
“As the commonwealth’s largest nonpartisan, volunteer child advocacy association, Virginia PTA upholds values of respect, collaboration, and accountability,” it said.
In an emailed statement, Leete told CNN that the rally had been organized for the purpose of supporting FCPS students.
“It had nothing at all to do with CRT. To my knowledge, CRT is not being taught in FCPS or any other public school in the country,” she said.
“I will certainly admit, it was ineloquently stated and with a pause for the applause, the timing was off, but ‘Let them die’ was referring to the ideals that show a disregard and lack of support for our teachers who have a truly difficult job to do even without a pandemic,” Leete went to explain.
Leete, who sent a copy of her entire speech to CNN, was speaking in her capacity as 1st Vice President of the Fairfax County NAACP when she addressed the group outside Luther Jackson Middle school,
The NAACP chapter said in a statement Sunday that it stands “firmly” with Leete and “her work in the past, present and future.
The NAACP said it “does not condone or support violence of any kind, whether we agree with an individual’s ideas or not. We believe in peaceful demonstrations and activism in order to achieve social justice and equity. But we will always stand in opposition to anti-diversity and anti-equity rhetoric, and any ideas or policies that further an inequitable agenda.”
The NAACP said Leete’s speech addressed preparing “…our children for a better world by denying space to rhetoric, ideas or narratives that threaten the world we want to leave our next generation. This is abundantly clear when you consider the entirety of her speech, instead of simply the last seconds of it.”
Leete’s resignation is the latest salvo in the pitched debate over critical race theory, a theory for understanding the world that focuses on the role of systemic racism as the underpinning of American society. The idea has faced sharp resistance over the past year from conservatives who say that the theory divides people of different races against each other and is inappropriate for K-12 schools.
At least two dozen states have banned critical race theory or introduced legislation to ban it from being taught in the classroom — even though educators say that the theory itself is generally not included in grade school curricula. And proponents along with critical race theorists insist that the concept is being conflated with conversations about diversity and equality.
Protest at Virginia school board meeting
Harry Jackson, a parent who has opposed critical race theory, called Leete’s comments “appalling and inappropriate.”
“Why would you ever wish death on someone who you disagree with,” he told CNN.
This year, Jackson became the first African American to be voted in as PTA president for Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, along with other board members who oppose critical race theory being taught in schools.
He and others ran in part to make sure the theory was not taught in their schools he told CNN. But the state PTA is trying to nullify his and other board members win saying they did not follow proper procedure.
He was pleased the Virginia PTA requested Leete’s resignation.
“It was a responsible gesture by the Virgina PTA. Now I hope the Fairfax NAACP and PTA do the same,” he said.
Fairfax, Virginia, and neighboring Loudoun County have become flash points in the ongoing critical race theory debate.
In Fairfax, issues over diversity of all kinds in their top-rated Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology has caused an uproar when the school announced it was going to eliminating standardized testing requirements and application fees for incoming freshmen.
It was a move to promote more diversity in the district, but some parents railed against it, saying it would simply “dumb down” the academic standards.
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