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Balow relocating to Virginia in campaign against critical race theory

Superintendent Balow photo in front of U.S. and Wyoming flags
Wyoming Department of Education

Wyoming State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jillian Balow is leaving the state.

Her plan is to take on the same role in Virginia, joining that state's soon-to-be governor in his efforts to "lead on the front lines of educational transformation in this country."

"The work we will do to restore parents' voices in education, push for innovation and student success, enhance school choice, and to eliminate political ideology from the classroom will set a new tone in Virginia and the nation," Balow wrote in the news release announcing her move. "We have made great progress on these very items during my tenure in Wyoming."

In Wyoming, state superintendents are elected. Balow is leaving amid her second term, which would have ended after the next election. Helming the Wyoming Department of Education for those seven years, the former Wyoming teacher championed computer science education and charter schools, at times placing her own children in private schools.

"Serving as State Superintendent for the last seven years has been the greatest honor and challenge of my life," the lifelong Wyomingite wrote.

Glenn Youngkin will become governor of Virginia Jan. 15, and asked Balow to be a part of his administration. In Virginia, the superintendent is appointed, not elected.

Governor-elect Youngkin made a campaign promise to root out critical race theory from Virginia schools on day one of his administration.

Critical race theory is typically only taught at the graduate-level as a lens through which a researcher can examine and understand the role that race and racism have played in shaping modern institutions.

But it's become a rallying cry for Republicans across the country. They have brought the battle to school board meetings, using the alleged presence of critical race theory in school curricula to justify banning books about a wide variety of topics. The term "critical race theory" has been redefined to include a much wider set of books, ideas and lessons. Some have even labelled the uproar over critical race theory a "moral panic."

Balow made headlines last year for endorsing an anti-critical race theory bill, saying that Marxism was being taught in Wyoming classrooms. As evidence, she produced hand-written class notes from a middle-schooler, but admitted that she had not followed up with the teacher or the school's administration to learn more about the course material.

In her Jan. 13 press release, Balow said her priority in Virginia will be "eliminating political ideology from the classroom."

"And when it comes to politics in the classroom, I've made my position crystal clear that partisan politics and radical theories should not be forced upon our children," Balow wrote. "I am ready and more motivated than ever to engage at this critical time in our nation's history serving alongside Governor-elect Youngkin as he leads Virginia through this historic opportunity to reset and restore public education with parents and students as the priority."

Among her list of accomplishments, Balow cites her work on "Indian Education For All" — an effort to teach all Wyoming students about the history and contributions of the Northern Arapaho and Eastern Shoshone. But she also participated in the One Shot Antelope Hunt, a formerly men's only event that, in the past, saw governors and high-profile politicians from across the country gather each year to don red face, while engaging in other racist mockeries of Wyoming's native people.

Balow said she only participated in the event after the red face tradition was removed. Allowing women to take part and reexamining the hunt's racist elements were recent, concurrent changes.

Gov. Mark Gordon thanked Balow for her service in a news release of his own.

"I have enjoyed working alongside Superintendent Balow for the past seven years in my roles as Treasurer and Governor, making her the second-longest currently serving statewide elected officer," Gordon wrote. "We will miss her experience and expertise. She has worked to improve our state's education system, and I thank her for her efforts. Her service to the State has been exemplary, and I wish her well in her new role."

Balow's resignation officially takes effect Jan. 16. Balow's home party, the Wyoming GOP, will be tasked with providing the names of three potential successors. The governor will then appoint a replacement from among those three candidates. Balow's successor will serve to the end of her term and will have to win election this year to keep the position.

Wyoming Department of Education Chief Policy Officer Kari Eakins will serve as interim superintendent until the vacancy is filled.

Jeff is a part-time reporter for Wyoming Public Media, as well as the owner and editor of the Laramie Reporter, a free online news source providing in-depth and investigative coverage of local events and trends.
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