COLUMBUS (Ohio) -- School board members in a district close to the Ohio capital have been subject to a steady stream lawsuits and attacks online. Another example was a reelected incumbent who supported student mask requirements. A letter was sent by someone who was angry at her position and warned that "we are coming after"
Due to the increasing public attack, a 15-year-old veteran board member from another Ohio district decided not to run for reelection.
It's not limited to Ohio. There are many stakes for students in local school board races across the United States.
Parental protests against COVID-19-related gender-neutral bathrooms and mask mandates are being turned into full-fledged board-takeover campaigns, which will receive their first widespread test in just weeks.
Scott DiMauro, president and CEO of the Ohio Education Association (the state's largest teacher union), stated that "What's happening 2021 is a prelude for some of some of the messaging, some issues we'll encounter going into the midterm election."
Local school board elections are usually peaceful affairs in which incumbents win reelection. Right-leaning political newcomers are attempting to challenge the establishment by setting up candidate training academies and state-level recruiting efforts. These results could have implications for public education in the country and safety measures against coronaviruses.
It is difficult to determine how many current board members will face challenges from conservative-leaning community members due to the thousands of school districts across the United States. The challenges are widespread.
A conservative legal institute in Wisconsin provides free legal advice to parent groups on recalls of school boards. In Iowa, Gov. Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds, a Republican has taken the unusual step to endorse a conservative candidate for a seat on the local school board. A group called MAD, which opposes remote learning during the pandemic and has partisan leanings regarding curriculum, is supporting like-minded school board candidates in Colorado.
Dan Maloit, an ex-Army Green Beret and Colorado leader, said that schools feel like a political battlefield. "Kids shouldn't have to know the political views of their teachers or administrators. They should be able walk in without being told. This will allow them to focus on their learning and writing, math and understanding history.
Teachers unions are opposed to the push, as they have for many years helped elect their allies to school boards. They believe that right-wing candidates are conspirators who take moderate positions in order to be elected. However, once in office, they will oppose mask regulations and other COVID safety protocols.
Randi Weingarten, the president of American Federation of Teachers, described it as "a craven, anti-democratic effort to usurp local authority over our children's education."
She stated that "their goal is to limit students’ understanding of historical events and attack common-sense security measures such as bullying those who believe science and teaching truthful history."
FreedomWorks, a conservative group, started a candidate academy in March. It has already trained around 300 people across the country, with the majority coming from Ohio, according to Laura Zorc (director of education reform). She said that about 1,000 people have already signed up.
Zorc stated, "My message to parents is: Run for office even if it isn't something you like and you don’t feel that your voice is being heard."
"I learned that public figures are allowed to speak lies because they are public figures. She said that she had never seen it at the local level.
One common claim made by challengers is that schools teach Black children that they are victims and white kids that they are villains. This they attribute to critical racism theory. This is a description of the districts' responses last year to racial protests, which national education and civil right organizations rejected as dangerous and false.
Critical Race Theory A way to look at America's past through the lense of racism, which was developed in the 1970s/80s. Although there is no evidence that it is taught in schools in any way, the concept has been a focal point in culture wars ever since George Floyd's death.
Julie Feasel was a member of the Olentangy school boards since 2006. She decided to retire because the job was too ugly. She stated that she had not faced a challenge in a candidate since 2013.
She said, "It's a storm of all ages when you think about public service." "People need to be aware of who is hiding behind the curtain. It's like the Wizard of Oz - who is pulling the strings?
Ohio Value Voters is one of the most active groups in Ohio. It created its own spinoff, Protect Ohio Children Coalition, in April according to state business records. Although the group's leaders didn't return calls or emails, its website advises parents to meet up in groups of 30, and use a "tsunami strategy," to raise social issues and disrupt board meetings.
It also maintains an interactive "indoctrination chart" that targets districts offering critical race theory, comprehensive homosexuality education, and socio-emotional learning. It directs parents to FreedomWorks, which has the stated goal of "replacing radical school boards officials through the electoral process."
Charlie Wilson, a Worthington school board member and the immediate past president, of the National School Boards Association said that board seats are especially vulnerable to challengers from the movement emerging in a year like this. This is an off-year election cycle, with mostly local races on it. Turnout is expected to drop for all but the most motivated voters.
Wilson stated that he believes conservative insurgents, who often use the phrases "education transparency", "putting our children first" -- are a minority.
He said, "They're basically running on identical messages." "I believe they are really trying to eliminate all mentions of race, racism and slavery, Jim Crow law, Civil Rights movement, or the Holocaust. I can't tell you how many emails I received from other board members that said, "By mentioning race we are racist."
Zorc called this characterization of candidates "a scare tactic."
Wilson's colleague Nikki Hudson apologized last year for suggesting that school resource officers supporters were racist. She received a letter threatening to sue her. It stated, "You are forcing them (a) mask --for no reason in the world other than control." You will be punished." The letter was sent to the U.S. Department of Justice .
Amie BacaOehlert, president and CEO of the Colorado Education Association, said that it was demoralizing and disappointing that the focus has shifted away from what is really important, which is students. It seems like adult issues have taken over the conversation instead of thinking about the students' needs.
Nieberg reported from Denver. Nieberg is a member of the Report for America Statehouse News Initiative corps. Report for America, a non-profit national service program, places journalists in local newsrooms so they can report on undercovered topics.