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Anniversary of an Expensive Manufactured Crisis

If you care about public education, then you have noticed that school districts across the country have been under fire for the last three years. It feels there is a new outrage, investigation, controversy, or lawsuit every day from some corner of the nation. 

Unfortunately, Northern Virginia has been in the eye of the storm with near constant interference and investigations of its public school systems by the Governor’s office. It doesn’t matter whether one lives in Loudoun or Fairfax county–the actions of the school boards have been under constant scrutiny by politically motivated groups who have tried unsuccessfully for the past three years to recall and remove democratic members of those school boards.

These attacks are mainly about politics. If they can make school districts and boards look like they are breaking the law or violating civil rights, it makes it that much easier to defund and dismantle public education. These attacks on our public schools’ reputations are intended to make public schools look like they are corrupt, dysfunctional, and inept rather than underfunded with overworked staff. 

The manufactured crisis over delayed notification of National Merit commended certificates is a perfect example of this effort. One year ago, on December 21, 2022, an inflammatory and exaggerated article was published that accused school administrators of intentionally delaying notification of National Merit commended certificates. The accusation was that the delay was part of a long “war on merit,” rather than an administrative oversight by an overworked school system. This story was published in the City Journal, a publication by the conservative Manhattan Institute for Public Policy Research, a right-wing non-profit think tank that promotes education policies like vouchers and privatization. The City Journal is the same source for Chris Rufo’s fabricated Critical Race Theory crisis in 2020, and it has fomented the culture wars through an unrepentant anti-LGBTQIA stance in 2023.

This story on the delayed notification to students was amplified throughout the right-wing media-verse and on social media before it hit mainstream media in January 2023. Somehow, a media frenzy that began over the 2022-23 winter break triggered a 9-month long investigation and lawsuit by the Attorney General under the Office of Civil Rights

In the new year, 4 Public Education will examine this particular manufactured crisis in order to estimate its impact on the school district, which involved an expensive investigation by FCPS, vilification of the school district via significant negative national and local media coverage, and multiple lawsuits racking up substantial legal costs for FCPS and the Commonwealth. 

If you care about your public schools, then you should care about this particular story, because it involves hundreds and thousands of taxpayer dollars spent on a manufactured crisis, rather than the education of students. Something similarly sinister may be coming to your school district.

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