Atif Qarni

Pakistani American Atif Qarni has been named education secretary by Virginia Gov.-elect Ralph Northam.

Virginia Gov.-elect Ralph Northam Dec. 21 announced that Prince William County middle school civics and economics teacher Atif Qarni will serve as his education secretary.

Qarni, a Pakistani American military veteran who has written publicly about the obstacles he has faced as a Muslim running for public office in Virginia, will oversee policy and support to the state’s K-12 schools and higher education institutions, according to a Richmond Times-Dispatch report.

“If we want to build an economy that works better for every family, no matter who you are, no matter where you live, we must begin with the foundation of a world-class education,” Northam said in a statement, according to the report. “We can accomplish it if we support our educators and school support professionals, uphold accountability, invest in and expand STEM curriculum, and make early childhood education a priority.”

A former sergeant in the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve, Qarni was deployed to Iraq in 2003, according to a biography from the Northam transition team, the report said.

Currently a teacher at Dale City-based Beville Middle School, Qarni has a bachelor’s degree in sociology from George Washington University, as well as a master’s in history and a teaching licensure from George Mason University.

In 2013, the Pakistani American ran for the Virginia House of Delegates, but came up short to Republican Del. Robert G. Marshall (see earlier India-West story here). Then in 2015, Qarni again ran for office, this time for state Senate, but fell short in the Democratic primary to eventual winner Jeremy McPike.

Qarni has penned an op-ed piece in the Washington Post claiming that “Virginia Democrats claim to fight for ethics reform, represent working-class people and lead a big-tent party, yet they groom and recruit mostly white, Christian, male candidates. A party that prides itself on being inclusive can be very exclusive.”

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