PolitiFact VA: Claims U.S. Traditions Are Being Axed From Schools Are False
Republican gubernatorial nominee Glenn Youngkin says that Terry McAuliffe, the frontrunner for the Democratic nomination, wants to restrict Virginia schools from teaching about the 4th of July and the Pledge of Allegiance.
Youngkin worked the claim into his talking points in May.
Here are three examples:
During a May 4 interview with Fox News host Tucker Carlson, Youngkin said Democrats are “next onto... taking the Pledge of Allegiance and the Fourth of July out of the curriculum of things that actually bind us together, unite us as Americans and Virginians. And it just seems like Terry McAuliffe and the left liberal Democrats here want to take our education policy from having everybody in the fast lane to having everybody in the broken down lane.”
Youngkin’s campaign repeated the claim in a May 4 Facebook post urging voters to watch his interview with Carlson. “Youngkin speaks on Fox News about Democrats and liberal Terry McAuliffe pushing a radical political agenda in Virginia, including...removing the Pledge of Allegiance and the Fourth of July from curriculum, teaching divisive critical race theory in the classroom, and more,” his campaign wrote.
On May 16, Youngkin told Fox News host Laura Ingraham, "We're actually going to take the Fourth of July and the Pledge of Allegiance out of the list of things that bind us. This is just part of the agenda of the liberal left led by Terry McAuliffe and (Gov.) Ralph Northam."
We fact checked Youngkin’s claims and found no evidence that McAuliffe wants to remove Independence Day and the Pledge of Allegiance from school curriculum or that there is a Democratic agenda to do so.
Macaulay Porter, Youngkin’s campaign spokesperson, says Youngkin’s claims are based on the August 2020 final report of the Virginia Commission on African American History Education in the Commonwealth. The 34-member panel of educators was appointed by Gov. Ralph Northam a year earlier to recommend ways of broadening instruction about Black experiences into teaching American history.
Porter pointed to an item on Page 48 of the report in a section recommending changes to some of the state’s “essential knowledge” guidelines about history for first graders.
One current standard is teaching, “People in Virginia’s communities are united as Americans by common principles and traditions, such as celebrating Independence Day (and) pledging allegiance to the flag.”
The commission recommends changing the standard to requiring first graders to know that, “people in Virginia’s communities are united as Americans by common principles and traditions.”
The specific mention of July Fourth and the Pledge would be lifted from the essential knowledge guidelines.
”Glenn said this proposal to remove the Fourth of July and the Pledge of Allegiance is part of the liberal agenda, and that McAuliffe is leading that liberal agenda,” Porter wrote in an email. “Both of those things are undeniably true.”
Porter noted that Northam, who appointed the panel, has endorsed McAuliffe for the Democratic nomination and his goal is to “continue the Northam agenda.”
Holes in Youngkin’s claim
There are huge problems with Youngkin’s claim. For starters, he has not offered any statement by McAuliffe on teaching about Independence Day and the Pledge. We’re unaware that such a statement exists. McAuliffe has called Youngkin’s claim a “falsehood.”
The commission’s report was submitted to the Virginia Board of Education, which sets standards for learning and must approve any changes to them. The board will begin considering new standards for history next year that are scheduled to go into effect in the 2024-2025 school year and remain for the next seven years. It’s up to the Board to adopt recommendations by the commission.
Dan Gecker, president of the state Board of Education, said Youngkin’s statement misconstrues the commission's work. He said the report does not recommend removing Independence Day and the Pledge from instruction and the board is not considering such action. “Oh, my gosh, no,” he said. “Can you picture that?”
Gecker said the deletion Youngkin points to is not a policy proposal, but merely a “technical edit” the commission recommended to a subset of standards. The board did not adopt the change during an Oct. 14, 2020 meeting when it reviewed the commission’s proposals for technical edits.
But even if the Board had removed the language in the section Youngkin points to, state standards would have still required teaching about the Pledge and the Fourth in kindergarten through second grade. By the end of second grade, students must know “the words and the meaning of the Pledge of Allegiance.” They must be able to “describe why United States citizens celebrate major holidays, including...Independence Day.”
Beyond the standards, state law requires all students “to learn the Pledge of Allegiance and to demonstrate such knowledge.” It mandates “the daily recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance in each classroom,” although students can decline to participate.
“The State Board of Education, even if it wanted to, couldn’t remove the Pledge of Allegiance from schools,” said Charles Pyle, director of communications for the state Department of Education. “It would take an act from the General Assembly.”
Youngkin says Terry McAuliffe favors “taking the Pledge of Allegiance and the Fourth of July out of the (school) curriculum.” It’s one of at least three Youngkin claims that McAuliffe “leads a liberal agenda” to do so.
But Youngkin hasn’t produced any evidence McAuliffe supports such action, and we haven’t found any. Youngkin doesn’t get to create positions for McAuliffe.
Moreover, there’s no evidence of a Democratic agenda to limit teaching about the Fourth and the Pledge. A commission seeking to broaden instruction about Black participation in American history recommended removing a reference to the Pledge and the Fourth from one subsection of state learning standards.
Youngkin ignores that the state Board of Education did not adopt that recommendation. Even if the Board had approved it, other sections of the standards would still require teaching about the Fourth and the Pledge. And he ignores that - beyond the Board’s purview - state law requires students to learn the Pledge.
We rate Youngkin’s claim False.
Glenn Youngkin, Fox News interview, May 4, 2021 (0:47 mark).
Youngkin, Facebook post, May 4, 2021.
Youngkin, Fox News interview, May 16, 2021.
Emails from Macaulay Porter, spokesperson for Youngkin campaign, May 20-21, 2021.
Interview with Daniel Gecker, president of the Virginia Board of Education, June 1, 2021.
Interview with Charles Pyle, Director of Media Relations for the Virginia Department of Education, May 26, 2021.
Virginia Department of Education, History and Social Science Standards of Learning, adopted 2015.
Gov. Ralph Northam, “Governor Northam Signs Executive Order Establishing Commission on African American History Education,” Aug. 24, 2019.
Virginia Department of Education, Standards of Learning, History and Social Science, accessed Jun 1, 2021.
Code of Virginia, § 22.1-202, accessed June 2, 2021.