Playing a Moderate, Antonin Scalia’s Daughter Wants a Virginia School Board Seat

Playing a Moderate, Antonin Scalia’s Daughter Wants a Virginia School Board Seat

Playing a Moderate, Antonin Scalia’s Daughter Wants a Virginia School Board Seat

But her progressive opponent is making sure voters know the truth.

Facebook
Twitter
Email
Flipboard
Pocket

Virginia Republican Governor Glenn Youngkin’s upset 2021 victory showcased the growing electoral power of “education” issues, from the reasonable to the crackpot. Behind a banner of “parental rights,” the Suburban Fleece Daddy’s coalition included even some Joe Biden voters frustrated by extended Covid-related school closures and unresponsive school boards. Once elected, Youngkin tilted crackpot, banning the teaching of “critical race theory” in Virginia schools as well as other “inherently divisive concepts,” and pushing curbs on the rights of transgender students.

Youngkin’s surprise victory emboldened national conservative groups to step up their campaign against public education, teachers, and efforts to make schools safer and fairer for students of color as well as the LGBT community. Formerly quiet school board races have turned into sites of ideological combat, with conservative groups like the 1776 Project PAC, Moms for Liberty, and the Noah Webster Education Foundation, as well as local Republican parties, investing millions to recruit, support, and train school board candidates.

It’s no accident that one of the hottest and most expensive school board races in the country is in Virginia’s Albemarle County, home of Charlottesville. It pits the conservative daughter of Antonin Scalia, Meg Scalia Bryce, whose kids are in private schools, who denies the existence of “systemic racism,” favors vouchers, and challenges the county’s supportive curriculum for LGBT students, versus Allison Spillman, the progressive mother of five public school kids, including one trans daughter and a neurodivergent son, and who is pretty much Bryce’s polar opposite on policy issues.

Bryce, a part-time psychology professor at the University of Virginia, has tried to campaign for the at-large seat as Youngkin without the fleece, mostly avoiding ideological topics. Her issues, she says, are “transparency” and “academic rigor.” About having kids in private school, she notes that her kids were once in Albemarle public schools but she took them out—and blames the school board. “I’m so invested that rather than walking away and not looking back, I came back to fight,” she says.

On the campaign trail, she’s just “Meg Bryce,” having dropped the Scalia, though she uses “Meg Scalia Bryce” in some settings. She claims that opponents don’t “think I deserve to be heard because of…my dad. I hope most people in Charlottesville will reject this kind of close-mindedness.”

But Bryce slipped up in her attempt to be Moderate Meg the Mom at an October 9 candidate forum sponsored by the Albemarle-Charlottesville NAACP. She startled the group by insisting that “not everybody agrees that there is systemic racism. And it has to be OK for people to disagree about that.” She went on: “It has to be OK for some people to be able to say, ‘Well, I do recognize that racism exists and there are racist people in the system. I don’t agree that there is systemic racism. And I don’t think somebody should be shamed into silence for expressing that.”

Spillman shot back: “I think we are doing a disservice to all of our children if we even play with the idea that [systemic racism] is not real,” she said. “I think if we have teachers who are willing to not admit that systemic racism is real that they are doing a disservice in teaching our kids.”

Richmond Times-Dispatch columnist Michael Paul Williams excoriated Bryce on Monday. “The denial of systemic racism is itself an act of racism,” he argued. “Bryce’s statements are especially tone-deaf for Charlottesville, site of a violent 2017 march by Nazis, Ku Klux Klan members and other white supremacists protesting the city’s plan to remove Confederate statues.” Williams’s column was headlined: “Justice Scalia’s daughter is unworthy of a school board seat.”

For several months, Bryce was seriously out-fundraising Spillman, drawing multi-thousand-dollar donations from several major conservative political players. Her largest donor to date is coal magnate Richard Baxter Gilliam, a major player in conservative Virginia politics, who gave Bryce $10,000. She received thousands from the plaintiffs in a lawsuit against the Albemarle district over its schools’ anti-racism policies, brought by the right-wing Alliance Defending Freedom, which the Southern Poverty Law Center has named a hate group. She also accepted $1,500 from a billboard-company owner known for proudly selling Islamophobic billboards. At the end of June, Bryce had raised three times as much as Spillman.

Now, each has raised over $100,000, with Spillman taking a slight lead thanks to 700 individual donations. The last winner of this at-large seat raised only $3,000.

Spillman attributes her fundraising surge to parents afraid of Bryce’s extremism. “I get texts from district parents daily saying, ‘Thanks for standing up for our kids. Thanks for standing up against racists and homophobes.’” Other parents of LGBT kids fear Bryce’s criticism of the district’s policies that attempt to foster inclusion of all. Bryce supports Youngkin’s efforts to mandate, for instance, that teachers inform parents whose kids are asking to be called a different name or pronouns at school, or who are coming out as trans, defending it as “essential to keep an open line of communication between schools and parents, even more so when a child is in distress.” Current district policies allow teachers to keep such issues private.

Spillman forcefully disagrees. “Sometimes schools are the only safe place for trans kids,” she says. “Some really want to have that conversation with their parents, but work it out with friends and teachers first.”

Maybe the most telling marker of Bryce’s conservatism, though, is her embrace by the conservative Noah Webster Education Foundation, founded by a right-wing Virginia activist who attended the January 6 insurrection. She has attended at least one of the group’s candidate trainings and is featured on the group’s website as “Meg Scalia Bryce, daughter of the late Supreme Court Justice Scalia.” She praised the training NWEF provided: “I found each session fruitful.… I was thrilled to connect with others who care deeply about public education and are willing to fight to make it better. I came away feeling inspired and reinvigorated for my own campaign.”

And while Bryce has defended her attendance at the training as merely to learn the nuts and bolts of “school budgets and parliamentary procedure,” NWEF proudly describes the training as specifically designed to help “conservative school board members” and touted the attendance of none other than Governor Youngkin.

Spillman thinks local voters are catching on to Bryce’s real agenda. “She’s been playing to the moderates, but she’s financially supported by Republicans. I don’t think our voters want to find out after she’s elected that, like Youngkin, she’s actually an extremist.” We’ll find out November 7.

Thank you for reading The Nation!

We hope you enjoyed the story you just read, just one of the many incisive, deeply reported articles we publish daily. Now more than ever, we need fearless journalism that moves the needle on important issues, uncovers malfeasance and corruption, and uplifts voices and perspectives that often go unheard in mainstream media.

Donate right now and help us hold the powerful accountable, shine a light on issues that would otherwise be swept under the rug, and build a more just and equitable future.

For nearly 160 years, The Nation has stood for truth, justice, and moral clarity. As a reader-supported publication, we are not beholden to the whims of advertisers or a corporate owner. But it does take financial resources to report on stories that may take weeks or months to investigate, thoroughly edit and fact-check articles, and get our stories to readers like you.

Donate today and stand with us for a better future. Thank you for being a supporter of independent journalism.

Thank you for your generosity.

Ad Policy
x