Why was Dutta’s Nomination to VA Board of Education Killed Last Minute?
The contentious decision, of the Virginia Democrat-led State Senate, on February 7, 2023, to reject the confirmation of Indian-American Suparna Dutta to the State’s Board of Education, is fraught with questions as to why Dutta’s nomination was nixed last minute, even though a Senate Committee comprised of ten Democratic and four Republican Senators unanimously confirmed her for the position exactly a week prior to the Senate vote.
In an email to VA Democratic State Senator Chap Petersen, on February 10, Dutta questioned, “I was unanimously confirmed by the Senate Privileges and Elections Committee on January 31st. So, what changed in a week between that and the full Senate floor vote? The fact that I challenged Senator Tim Kaine’s wife, Anne Holton, on her views about the constitution and socialism…”
“I understand that you spoke on the Senate floor the day after the BOE [Board of Education] confirmation vote. While I appreciate the conciliatory comments, it is too little, too late…” read Dutta’s email to Petersen that further noted, “You said the Muslim elders told you that I belong to an extremist Hindu organization…” while naming a mosque in Falls Church and Muslim business associations that lobbied against her. News India Times was given access to Dutta’s email exchanges with Petersen from February 7 and 10.
Questioning the timing of events that led to her removal, Dutta told News India Times on February 11, “After I was nominated by Governor Youngkin last July, the Senate Committee voted to approve my appointment unanimously on January 31. There were no issues until then. On February 1, I had an argument with Holton about founding documents. On February 6, I was informed that there was an amendment placed against me. Then, on February 7, Senator Ghazala Hashmi introduced a floor amendment S.J. 276 to remove my name from the Board appointments.”
The February 7 email reveals, before the vote, Dutta asked Petersen for a meeting to defend herself. In response, Petersen wrote “Yes, I’ve been hit with a floodtide of comments on your nomination, some from the usual suspects but others from groups which have historically supported me on business and other issues…” adding Dutta has “become a lightning rod” and he is not happy to see these issues play out in social media and not raised in the Committee.
On the floor, Republican Senator Stephen Newman noted, “As a matter of fact, it didn’t happen until we got onto this floor. We went all the way through the committee system, and not a word about [Dutta] and not until yesterday did we see an amendment to take her off,” while asking Hashmi the reasons to remove Dutta’s name.
Hashmi responded, “This particular board member [Dutta] is being removed through this amendment because of concerns of a lack of work in the field of education… [she] has not been a part of education or any kind of educational entities, has not worked in the space of public education and therefore is not qualified to serve on the Board of Education.”
“In addition to the lack of background in education or educational expertise, [Dutta] has raised some serious issues around the concerns of racism, slavery, American history, [and] most recently in the discussions on Standards of Learning [Dutta] indicated that racism was not a factor in American history…” Hashmi said while pointing out she herself is a South Asian woman, an immigrant, and would welcome a person of similar background to this prestigious board.
A Democratic Senator, Joseph Morrissey, while responding to his Democratic colleague, Scott Surovell’s statement said, “But he’s wrong. When we say both sides do this every year, sometime[s], you got to take the higher road.”
“And let me say this, if you were in power over there, you do it. And the people that are in power over here are doing it and it’s wrong,” Morrissey emphasized. “But this I know it’s certitude, if somebody is appointed by a Governor irrespective of whether he is a Republican or Democratic Governor, I actually think we do have to talk about it here… I don’t know Suparna Dutta… And we don’t take them off unless it’s warranted. And you don’t take them off because you can….”
While stressing that Surovell voted to confirm her appointment on January 31, Dutta claimed she invited the wrath of Democrats mainly for sparring with Holton over the founding documents and socialism. “I was also targeted for proposing curriculum reforms and voicing my opinion that the August 2022 History and Social Sciences Learning document was a defective product. I said it had jargon-heavy and difficult-to-test academic concepts. These make SOLs more subjective and less specific.”
According to Dutta, the themes and concepts in the document talked about questionable concepts like “conflict” and “power relationships” while highlighting “colonialism” and “imperialism” to name a few. “It is not about me, but about parents’ rights. I was marginalized for questioning the orthodoxies and for not conforming with groupthink,” she said.
Chairman of American Hindu Coalition Shekhar Tiwari said, “Our membership, both Democrats and Republicans, is really surprised that a last-minute social media campaign succeeded in derailing Suparna’s confirmation… She earned the ire of opponents because of her outspokenness on merit-based education.”