Rightwing takeover of school boards threatens public education
“The path to save the nation is very simple — it’s going to go through the school boards,” former Trump adviser Steve Bannon said on his podcast last year.
Rightwing extremists’ newfound focus on schools, their boards, and their curriculum was inspired by parental frustration over pandemic closures. The GOP capitalized on the lack of societal support for struggling parents with no options for child care, portraying the failure as one of “woke” public schools and not of a party hostile to free pre-k and funding for education.
Thus, after pandemic restrictions were loosened, Republicans moved on to fight the perceived injustice of critical race theory and rage about the presence of LGBTQ+ students in public schools. The pattern is clear: convince white parents with traditional values that their children are being taught a different way of life—one that threatens the status that their parents either have or aspire to have; one in which cis-gendered, Christian white people are not at the top of the social and economic pyramid.
Gov. Ron DeSantis suspended four elected members of the Broward County school board last week, citing alleged “neglect of duty” and “malfeasance” in overseeing a program to upgrade school security. All four are registered as Democrats and were replaced by DeSantis picks, giving him a foothold in the liberal county.
Two newly-elected members of the Sarasota, Florida, school board were photographed celebrating last week with two Proud Boys. Briget Ziegler and Robyn Marinelli, who both won their elections last week, are seen in a picture with supporters and two Proud Boys, one of whom is flashing a white-power sign.
The Oklahoma State Board of Education voted to downgrade the accreditation status of Tulsa Public Schools after a teacher complained that the district’s training materials violated state law banning critical race theory.
…the investigation did find that audio from the training, which [State Department of Education General Counsel Brad] Clark later declined to provide the State Board of Education, “incorporated” or was “based on” concepts including that “societal systems, including public schools, were originally solely developed by the majority, who were then predominantly White, middle-class individuals,” that black students are more likely to be suspended than white students, and that “deeply rooted stereotypes, built over time and by history and culture, can still be found in classrooms.”
Even in blue states, Republicans are betting big on local school board elections. The Californian effort, called “Parents Revolt,” is focusing conservative money and energy in an area that the state’s Democratic party has largely ignored.
The Grapevine-Colleyville Independent School District near Dallas, Texas, recently adopted guidelines that prohibit acknowledging the existence of transgender or nonbinary people and bans using pronouns that are “inconsistent with the biological sex of such person.”
Teachers at Springfield, Missouri’s largest high school were told to take down Pride flags displayed in their classrooms earlier this month. Stephen Hall, chief communications officer with Springfield Public Schools, said the policy is just meant to “maintain a professional standard” and “prevent disruptions to the learning environment.”
A Nebraska high school shut down its student newspaper after the paper ran multiple LGBT-related stories and discussed the origins of Pride Month. Northwest Public Schools board Vice President Zach Mader said there was “a little bit of hostility” over LGBTQ “editorials” the students ran at the end of the school year. The action against the paper came after administrators tried to prohibit student journalists from using preferred pronouns and names in bylines and articles.
Jamestown Township, outside Grand Rapids, Michigan, defunded its library after librarians refused to remove books that depicted same-sex relationships. People in the farming town said the Patmos Library was “grooming” children and promoting an “LGBTQ ideology.” Two directors subsequently resigned due to harassment. All hope is not lost, however, as the library managed to raise enough to stay open during 2023 through a GoFundMe campaign.
Boundary County library director Kimber Glidden announced her resignation after board members faced a harassment campaign for refusing to remove books that conservative activists find offensive. Members of the northern Idaho community have launched a recall effort against members of the library board for not giving in to “Christian fundamentalist” ideals.
“Nothing in my background could have prepared me for the political atmosphere of extremism, militant Christian fundamentalism, intimidation tactics, and threatening behavior currently being employed in the community,” Glidden wrote in her announcement posted by the library…The threats against her have been veiled, but their message is clear, she said. During comments in public meetings, she has been warned with fire-and-brimstone language of her imminent damnation, coming from certain Christian fundamentalists groups who are known to believe they have a call to violence, she said.
A school librarian in Louisiana is suing two conservative activists for defamation after they falsely accused her of putting “pornographic” material in local libraries. Amanda Jones, the president of the Louisiana Association of School Librarians, said she’s “had enough for everybody,” and wants to stand up to people who spread abuse online with no repercussions.
The Texas State Board of Education gave in to pressure from a conservative nonprofit to remove lessons on consent from the 2022-2023 school year sexual education standards. The nonprofit, deceptively named the “Medical Institute for Sexual Health,” regularly spreads disinformation in opposition to birth control and promotes an abstinence-only education.
A new law requiring Texas schools to display signs with the national motto, “In God We Trust,” took effect earlier this month. The bill, SB 797, allows private individuals or groups to donate such posters to schools across the state. Under such circumstances, the school must place it on display.