Editor’s note: This story was updated at 1:20 p.m. July 14, 2022, to clarify the United Against Racism in Education group’s association with the Montgomery County Republican Party.

Some Montgomery County school board candidates endorsed by a group known for fighting the concept of teaching “critical race theory” say they reject insinuations that their focus in office would be to support that mission.

United Against Racism in Education (UARE) has been distributing candidate endorsement flyers at the polls during early voting for the July 19 primary. The flyer says the endorsed candidates: “affirm the individuality & unique characteristics of EACH and EVERY student” and “reject dividing students into categories of preference or inferiority.”

The flyer also says they “support a balanced presentation of America’s history including both our triumphs and failings” and “give ALL students respect, support, and a quality education rather than labels.”

Other values mentioned on the flyer include supporting the “need for more mental health professionals” and the return of school resource officers; financial transparency and “parents’ rights to be fully informed about ALL programs their children are subjected to at school.”

The candidates endorsed by UARE are: at-large candidate Michael Fryar; District 1 candidates Alex Fahmy and Esther Wells; and District 5 candidate Dawn Iannaco-Hahn.

Fryar, Wells and Iannaco-Hahn are running as a slate in the nonpartisan election, meaning they share campaign finances.

[For more information on candidates for local, state and federal races, check out the Bethesda Beat voters guide.]

While the UARE endorsement flyer doesn’t explicitly mention CRT (a concept that states U.S. social institutions — like the criminal justice system and education system — have racist components), some voters noted on social media that people distributing them said they believe the endorsed candidates will remove curriculum that “includes anti-whiteness.”

Asked if the candidates agree with that sentiment, Fryar, speaking on behalf of the slate, said via email: “You can absolutely take all of us on the record to say we not only do not agree or endorse those comments, that we vehemently reject them. So if a few rogue folks are out there sounding off with that kind of hatred we want nothing to do with that abhorrent rhetoric and want nothing to do with them.”

Asked more generally about the slate’s stance on CRT, Fryar said “most unions and administrations have taken a firm stance it doesn’t exist in public education.”

“If you could get me a definition of CRT and how it applies to public education, particularly MCPS, I’ll gladly respond,” he wrote. “But I’m not entirely sure how a Harvard Law legal theory even applies here.”

Reached via email and asked about the endorsement from UARE, noting the group’s well-known association with the CRT debate, Fahmy said:

“I understand your job is to create headlines and controversy, but in the most important election after a tragic last two years with schools being closed, you have only contacted me to create assumptions and division about distracting topics, not on what it will take to get the children to read and learn math at their grade-level. My focus is on making sure ALL the students have the resources to compete in a global competition. An entire generation is two years behind, they have developed speech impediments, and you want to talk about Critical Race Theory? You are part of the problem.”

Dee Reuben, a UARE leader, said in an email that the group invited non-incumbent candidates to a question-and-answer session prior to the endorsement. UARE members had score cards used to rate the candidates and candidates with the highest ratings were endorsed, Reuben wrote. The candidates chosen were notified they were going to be endorsed, Reuben said, and “given the opportunity to decline the endorsement.”

“The candidates were also shown the back of the ballot with the UARE values,” Reuben wrote. “A couple of the candidates asked for a few minor changes in the wording. The executive UARE committee met to discuss the changes and agreed.”

UARE hosted an event in September, promoted on the Montgomery County Republican Party’s website. The event description described UARE as a “new group dedicated to fighting against the teaching of ‘Critical Race Theory’ principals in MCPS.”

Both Reuben and local GOP Chairman Reardon Sullivan said that, despite the promotion of the event, UARE is not affiliated with the Montgomery County Republican party. 

Aside from the event and occasional testimony during school board meetings, the CRT debate that dominated education discourse last year largely sidestepped MCPS.

In nearby Loudoun County, school board meetings were routinely disrupted by protesters.

According to ABC News, as of March, at least 35 states had passed or considered legislation restricting teaching about race and racism in public K-12 schools.

Caitlynn Peetz can be reached at caitlynn.peetz@bethesdamagazine.com

Caitlynn Peetz

Caitlynn Peetz can be reached at caitlynn.peetz@bethesdamagazine.com