Conservative school board victories can have a deterrent effect on racial justice efforts
Following the assassination of George Floyd, many school districts increased their focus on racial justice, explored their curriculum, attitudes, disciplinary practices, and more.
Last week’s election results could complicate these efforts.
In Virginia, education was a major contributor to the victory of Republican Governor Glenn Youngkin, who campaigned to emphasize parents’ rights to, for example, block classes in a novel depicting the brutality of slavery.
And race has been a factor in hundreds of school council elections and attempts to remove school council members. It appears that these challengers have lost the majority of their races, although there is no comprehensive record. Still, many observers argue that the victories of these Conservative candidates and the intense heat the races generated will have a nationwide impact.
People on both sides of the debate are predicting a chilling effect on school administrators, school principals and teachers who may now fear that any attempt to combat racism in their school systems will be labeled divisive and that parents who resist will be re-enacted will feel encouraged protest loudly.
“I honestly think it’s a big impact,” said Dan Domenech, executive director of AASA, the School Superintendents Association. He said curricula could potentially be changed if parents complain and superintendents who support solid work on racial justice might not be hired.
He noted that most school board members would be elected in the spring and predicted that these debates would intensify in the run-up to these competitions.
“In the places where they haven’t had these problems, they are very cautious, concerned and cautious,” he said. “It won’t go away. That will spread and that will grow. “
And in communities where Conservatives have won seats, school boards may reconsider lessons on systemic racism, often referred to as “critical racial theory,” and review policies to promote diversity.
Scott Henry easily ousted an incumbent to take a seat in Houston’s Cypress-Fairbanks Independent School District after a campaign focused on how race is taught in schools. Teaching Critical Race Theory, an academic field of study, is already illegal in Texas, but Henry claimed it is still being “interspersed” in class.
“That’s what we need to address and be careful about,” he said.
Henry campaigned with his conservative candidates Lucas Scanlon and Natalie Blasingame. The trio was supported by national conservative political action committees who sent out mailers and created websites for them promoting the group as “Christians, Conservatives.” [and] Patriots ”who believe in a“ biblical worldview ”.
Ballotpedia, a website tracking US politics, identified 96 school districts with a total of 302 seats for elections where social issues and the response to the coronavirus were major campaign topics. These include, for example, questions about mask requirements in school, comprehensive sex education, rights for transgender students and how race is taught in the classroom.
The group found that school board members in these districts were less likely than usual to run for re-election, and incumbents who ran were less likely to win.
Still, Ballotpedia found that candidates who took a conservative stance on race, gender, and pandemic issues failed to win most of their races. Of the 275 candidates Ballotpedia was able to name, around 28 percent of the winners took a conservative stance.
Teacher unions that support racial justice work said persecuting them also resulted in more gains than losses. “The vast majority of them won, even when facing well-funded right-wing candidates,” said Becky Pringle, president of the National Education Association, the country’s largest union, although she had no data to support that claim.
But others see a deterrent effect in the run-up to Election Day and the results. Pedro A. Noguera, dean of the Rossier School of Education at the University of Southern California, said he had received many questions from superintendents about how to deal with the backlash.
“My guess is that many are being silenced out of fear,” said Noguera. “These are angry mobs that come to board meetings. When dealing with angry people, it is not easy to talk to people in a sensible way. “
The threat of violence against school officials was so intense that the National School Boards Association wrote to President Biden in September, suggesting that it could be some form of domestic terrorism. The group later apologized for some of the language in the letter after being criticized by some of its state affiliates, despite the FBI saying it would set up a task force to respond to the violence.
The school districts’ intense focus on racial justice came about as part of the accountability movement in education that aimed to improve schools by holding officials accountable for results. The tests required by the No Child Left Behind Act brought a keen focus on racial performance disparities across the country, but the accountability measures provided for in the act did not resolve the problem.
After that, many schools turned to the issue of “justice” and how to deal with racial issues. Efforts included trying to hire more color teachers and introducing alternative disciplinary practices that aimed to reduce the suspensions that were often disproportionately passed on to color students. In the classroom, the teachers worked to better integrate different perspectives and cultures.
Floyd’s assassination in May 2020 sparked a more intense attempt to directly counter systemic racism. However, critics, including President Donald Trump, argued that these lessons portray all whites as oppressors and all coloreds as victims. Spurred on by activists like Christopher Rufo, Trump called all schools’ efforts to address systemic racism a critical racial theory that is not taught by any K-12 system, but rather assumes that racism is anchored in American institutions.
That year, conservative donors and groups focused money and resources on school board races.
That includes the 1776 Project PAC, a conservative group that opposes anti-racial education and says it has spent about $ 137,000 in 58 races. A separate group called 1776 Action, inspired by Trump’s now-defunct 1776 commission, recruited at least 75 Conservative school board candidates to sign a pledge to “defeat the venomous Critical Racial Theory-inspired curriculum,” said Adam Waldeck, the 1776 president Plot.
More than 200 other candidates, including many who will vote next year, have also signed the Pledge, a six-point pledge calling for civil servants to be removed, “the one wrong, divisive and radical view of America and our fellow citizens Promote with new leaders who “respect our history, our values, our rights, and the God-given dignity of every human being.”
South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem, who is considered a potential Republican candidate for the White House in 2024, was the first to sign the pledge.
“If you asked most people years ago, they probably didn’t know who was on their school board,” Waldeck said in an interview. “People are so focused on the White House and Congress, and I think people have almost forgotten that the decisions that matter most to us are right under our noses at the local level.”
Conservative influence was strong in Douglas County, Colorado, where a number of four Conservative school board candidates ran an open campaign against critical racial theory and other diversity initiatives. All four won.
Krista Holtzmann, a four-year-old incumbent who lost re-election, blamed national-conservative groups who, in her opinion, “have fanned a right-wing extremist base that puts all their anger and fears in a bucket called the CRT [critical race theory] and use it as something that divides. “
“CRT was a topic for which nobody on the other hand could give me an example that it happened on site,” said Holtzmann, 52. “It was a national topic of conversation that was brought into our district.”
Juli Watkins, another losing candidate in the race, initially dismissed “a loud minority” of people who accused teachers of “indoctrinating students with critical racial theory”.
However, she saw a growing anger over issues related to race, gender and pandemic restrictions during school committee meetings that debated when children could return to school in person. In the months that followed, billboards and signs for previously unknown school board candidates flooded Douglas County, a Trump stronghold south of Denver. The group even ran campaign ads denouncing the teaching of critical racial theory during ESPN’s Monday Night Football.
“I thought it was a joke when people told me this,” Watkins, 52, said of the school board’s ads on Monday Night Football. “I was always aware [the conservative candidates], but I really didn’t consider them a great threat. “
Other communities opposed similar conservative campaigns.
In 2020, the coastal community of Guilford, Connecticut anticipated the murder of Floyd by a white police officer in Minneapolis by introducing more diverse perspectives into the school curriculum and changing the school’s nickname, the Indians.
As this unfolded, some students expressed confusion and frustration as they spoke to their parents about the complex issues of race, gender, and history that were raised in the classroom, said Arnold Skretta of Guilford, an attorney not on the school board School was time.
Educators and the school board emphasized to the families that no critical racial theory was taught in the classroom, but some parents and officials did not believe them and in a Zoom forum accused the district of trying to make people of color more welcome at the expense of white Jewish Christians ” said Skretta.
“At that point it was more obvious, overt racism,” said Skretta, 42.
Five Conservatives are running for the school board after ousting three more traditional Republican school board members in GOP elementary school in September. Skretta had watched her rise and joined a group of Democrats and Independents to fight her.
The Conservatives drew national interest and money into their race and made multiple appearances on Fox News, but last week they lost 2 to 1 margins.
Skretta attributed a high turnout, saying it could not have won without significant voter engagement. He hoped this could be a blueprint for racing elsewhere.
“What happened here in Guilford is the result of a city engagement,” he said. “Democrats cannot allow the right to arm school authorities with weapons.”
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