Virginia Democratic gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe’s remarks about “diversity” and “inclusion” in schools, which he made in 2019, have resurfaced in the pivotal lead-up to Election Day on Nov. 2.

Education has emerged as a key issue in the race, with parents raising concerns about critical race theory, COVID-19 restrictions and transgender issues at tense school board meetings in Northern Virginia.

“We don’t do a good job in our education system talking about diversity, inclusion, openness and so forth,” McAuliffe said on C-SPAN Book TV while promoting his book “Beyond Charlottesville: Taking a Stand Against White Nationalism” in 2019. “We don’t. We got our textbooks, but, you know, that has to be a big part of how do you fit into the social work of our nation and our fabric. How we deal with one another is to me as important as, you know, your math class or your English class and so forth.”

Parents in Loudoun County and Fairfax County have condemned some programs launched in the name of “diversity” and “inclusion,” saying that the programs promote critical race theory, a framework that involves deconstructing aspects of society to discover “systemic racism” beneath the surface. Some parents have called CRT divisive, claiming it encourages White students to view themselves as oppressors. Youngkin has pledged to ban CRT in education if he wins the race.

Opponents of the academic doctrine known as Critical Race Theory protest outside of the Loudoun County School Board headquarters, in Ashburn, Virginia, June 22, 2021. 

Opponents of the academic doctrine known as Critical Race Theory protest outside of the Loudoun County School Board headquarters, in Ashburn, Virginia, June 22, 2021.  (REUTERS/Evelyn Hockstein)

“Terry McAuliffe introduced political agendas like critical race theory into the Virginia education system back in 2015. He lowered academic standards and dragged our children’s math and reading performances down with those diminished expectations,” Youngkin spokesperson Macaulay Porter told Fox News on Monday.

Youngkin has repeatedly cited alarming figures from the U.S. Department of Education’s National Assessment of Education Progress, which found that 62% of Virginia students failed to meet proficiency standards on eighth-grade math, while nearly 60% of students failed to meet national proficiency standards in fourth-grade reading.

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Virginians gather to support Glenn Youngkin

Virginians gather to support Glenn Youngkin (Tyler O’Neil/Fox News)

In a September debate, McAuliffe said, “I don’t think parents should be telling schools what they should teach.” McAuliffe has accused Youngkin of taking the quote out of context, but Youngkin’s campaign released an ad showing McAuliffe standing by the statement.

Nicole Neily, president and founder of Parents Defending Education and a Virginia mother, warned that too much focus on diversity and inclusion programs distracts from the “core curriculum.”

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“It’s abundantly clear that parents are concerned about the quality of education — Virginia recently posted staggering learning loss numbers over the course of the pandemic, which compounds the already abysmal proficiency rates in the state,” Neily told Fox News.

“When schools obsessively focus on DEI initiatives, that’s time and resources that are not being spent on core curriculum,” she added.

Glenn Youngkin addresses the crowd in Burke, Va.

Glenn Youngkin addresses the crowd in Burke, Va. (Tyler O’Neil/Fox News)

McAuliffe’s campaign did not respond to Fox News’ request for comment by press time. However, the Democratic Party of Virginia did release a statement condemning Youngkin.

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“Unlike Glenn Youngkin — who has based his entire campaign on racist dog whistles and divisive conspiracy theories — Terry McAuliffe knows that keeping Virginia open and welcoming is essential to building a better future for the commonwealth,” spokesman Manuel Bonder told Fox News.

McAuliffe has called concerns about CRT a “dog whistle” in the past.

“Virginians have rejected hateful right-wing politicians time and time again,” he said. “This November, they’ll reject Youngkin –– just like they rejected his allies Donald Trump and Corey Stewart.”