HEATHER HOLLINGSWORTH and CAROLYN THOMPSON / Associated Press
School board races, once sleepy and localized, have become the new frontline in a culture war raging across the country as resentments about COVID-19 restrictions and the anti-racism curriculum reach a boiling point.
On Tuesday, voters will take part in dozens of races dominated by debates about masks, vaccines, race and history. The results will not only decide on the politics of the districts, but also on whether the education struggle has staying power as part of the national discourse and will become a collective topic for Republicans in mid-term 2022.
Conservatives have zealously taken on the cause to help overcome the coronavirus pandemic and reshape the discussion of racial injustice in America as history rewriting.
Political tracking website Ballotpedia has identified 76 school districts in 22 states where candidates commented on race in education or on the critical racial theory that claims that racism is systemic in American institutions and which, according to the National School Boards Association, is not in K. – 12 public schools.
1776 Action, a group inspired by former President Donald Trump’s now-defunct 1776 commission that downplayed America’s role in slavery, called on candidates to sign a pledge to restore “an honest, patriotic upbringing “Is required. At least 300 candidates and elected officials have done so, said Adam Waldeck, the group’s president.
“2021 will really be something like a canary in the coal mine of what comes from the pike next year and in the future,” said Waldeck. “This is going to be the year I think it’s mainly parents who stand up and say, ‘You know, we have a voice too.’ And I think it’s going to be overwhelming. “
Board meetings are so controversial that they are mocked in the “Saturday Night Live” sketch. Some board members have been called Nazis and child molesters. The National School Boards Association even compared some of what was happening to “domestic terrorism” before apologizing.
Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, accused the right wing of orchestrating protests to “turn schools into battlefields with the aim of winning elections by politicizing both public health and history.” She noted the Virginia governor’s race in which Republican newcomer Glenn Youngkin took on conservatives’ frustrations with schools over pandemic policies and diversity education.
Even former Vice President Mike Pence jumped into the game and took a moment during a campaign rally in Ohio on Saturday to urge voters to back the Conservative School Board candidates in Tuesday’s election.
Waldeck said his group also sent out mailers and targeted text messages at races in Johnston, Iowa, where three candidates signed the pledge, and in West Chester, Pennsylvania, where law enforcement officials have been called to issue threats against school board president Chris McCune to investigate.
The backlash comes from ordering the removal of a parent from a July meeting who continued to request information on critical racial theory after their two-minute deadline. McCune, who was on the ballot, wrote in a letter to the Pennsylvania Daily Local News that it was his duty to “keep order” and insisted that the district did not even teach critical racial theory.
“National and local political forces continue to urge residents to rally against local school boards and CRT, even when board members and administrators have offered to meet to share the district’s curriculum to show that it just isn’t that’s what we teach, ”he said.
The 1776 Project PAC, which is separate from 1776 Action and led by New York political agent and author Ryan Girdusky, has invested in races across the country. It raised $ 289,544 in the third quarter, according to the latest report filed with the Federal Electoral Commission.
“I think anyone running has likely been upset by COVID to some extent,” said Jim McMullen, who is one of three candidates the group supports in the suburban Blue Valley neighborhood of Kansas City. The former English teacher and father of five had considered running before the pandemic but eventually decided to make an offer after the district became partially virtual and hybrid last year.
In Colorado, Schumé Navarro, a candidate for the Cherry Creek School District, went to court last month for the right to walk without face covering at a district candidacy event. The mother of five said she could not wear a mask because she was mistreated as a child.
“The environment and the culture that makes it steal only from our children,” she said of masks.
In Ohio, former Republican state chairman Jane Timken took time from her Senate campaign to offer advice and funding totaling more than $ 40,000 to more than 40 Conservative candidates in hyperlocal school elections.
“Not only do we help them financially, but my team is knocking on doors and talking to them on the phone,” said Timken, who said she had taken a “listening tour” of critical racial theory that uncovered cases of children who were “left-wing.” Politics indoctrinated ”.
In Wisconsin, Mequon voters will decide whether to replace the majority of the Mequon-Thiensville school board. Amber Schroeder, an organizer of the Recall MTSD movement, said that in addition to declining academic performance, parents are most preoccupied with critical racial theory, which she believes is evident in the emphasis on justice in the district.
“It’s huge here,” said Schroeder, noting the district’s hiring of diversity advisors. “It’s already gotten into our curriculum.”
In Minnesota, Erin Shelton won two other conservative candidates in a “Vote for Three!” Platform denouncing “harmful ideologies like CRT”, political indoctrination and “controversial medical mandates”. If all three are elected, they would have an ideological majority on the board in Wayzata.
“I don’t think the road to academic excellence is for a group of students to feel themselves to be victims or others responsible for this victimization,” Shelton said via email.
In Iowa, masking opponent Sarah Barthole received high-profile support from Republican Governor Kim Reynolds when she ran for the Ankeny School District School Board in a suburb of Des Moines. Barthole worked with Reynolds to reopen schools last year and is credited with inspiring the state’s now-banned law that bans masked mandates in schools.
“I’ve never seen the level of involvement in their campaign in a school board race before,” said Bartholes treasurer Steve Boal, whose own wife served on the board more than two decades ago. “Usually it’s a pretty low key thing.”
The governor’s support in this race is just the beginning, predicted Tina Descovich, a co-founder of Moms for Liberty, a Melbourne, Florida-based group whose 142 local chapters in 35 states have battled vaccination and mask mandates.
“Our governor here in Florida pretty much said he would be competing in school board races,” said Descovich, a former member of the Florida Brevard County School Board. “I’m curious how it looks for 2022.”
Thompson reported from Buffalo, NY Associated Press writer Julie Carr Smyth of Columbus, Ohio contributed to this report.