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'Let them die': Virginia PTA official resigns over comments at critical race theory rally

Michelle Leete said she did not mean to wish death on parents opposed to teaching race history in schools. Instead, she hoped the parents' right-wing "ideals" would die.
A Virginia School board meeting reflects a battle playing out across the country over a once-obscure academic doctrine known as Critical Race Theory, in Ashburn
Angry community members and parents during a school board meeting in Ashburn, Va, on June 22, 2021.Evelyn Hockstein / Reuters

An official with the Virginia Parent-Teacher Association resigned after she was heard in a video saying "Let them die," a comment some felt was aimed at parents at a rally to oppose critical race theory.

Michelle Leete, who worked as the Virginia PTA's vice president of training, said she did not mean to wish death on parents who are opposed to teaching race history in schools. Instead, she told the Washington Post, she hoped the parents' right-wing "ideals" would die. However, the damage was already done.

The Virginia PTA announced on Saturday that it had requested and received Leete's resignation.

"While not speaking in her role within Virginia PTA, we do not condone the choice of words used during a public event on Thursday, July 15, 2021,” the statement read.

In a tweet, the nonpartisan Fairfax County Parents Assocation added: "The actions & rhetoric of Ms. Leete & all of the like-minded partisan supporters of the SB are deeply disappointing. It evinces a deep lack of concern for children & parents, particularly where the wellbeing of children & families clash with political considerations."

Leete's comment came during a pair of dueling protests just before the Fairfax County Public Schools board voted unanimously to allow transgender students to use the restrooms and locker rooms that align with their gender identities and require school staff to use transgender students' preferred names and pronouns.

A group of protesters showed up to oppose the school's equity initiatives. So, another group that included Leete, took to the rally in a counterprotest, according to the Post. The fallout from Leete's comments were swift, with conservative social media users condemning her online.

Leete is also listed as first vice president of the Fairfax County NAACP. She was previously listed as Fairfax County Council PTA's vice president of communications, but the position is now listed as "vacant." Neither the NAACP chapter nor the Fairfax County PTA immediately responded to NBC News' requests for comments.

The incident follows months of headline-making debate over critical race theory, a decades-old framework and academic term to explore the ways racism is inherent in American life. Several bills have been proposed or passed across the country to limit the teaching of concepts such as racial equity and white privilege. Those concepts have been inaccurately described as “critical race theory.”

The national battle over teaching racial equity in schools has made its way to school boards, with conservative groups supporting local efforts to stop schools from allowing lessons on systemic racism.

“Many that are condemning critical race theory haven’t read it or studied it intensely. This is largely predicated on fear: the fear of losing power and influence and privilege,” Jonathan Chism, assistant professor of history at the University of Houston–Downtown and co-editor of "Critical Race Studies Across Disciplines" previously told NBC News.

“The larger issue that this is all stemming from is a desire to deny the truth about America, about racism.”