Across our nation issues such as Critical Theory, Diversity Equity and Inclusion policy,i Chromebooks/technology, masks, and gender studies,ii are being used to foment division between school boards and parents. This purposefully manufactured schism discourages parents from political participation in the governance of schools and may lead these primary stakeholders to see the school board as an enemy.
Last fall, education news repeatedly highlighted the push to divide school boards from parents. In the late summer 2021, the National School Board Association (NSBA) asked President Joe Biden to equate parents questioning local school board policies to domestic terrorists.iii Three business days following this NSBA letter, U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland mobilized the FBI to investigate parents at school board meetings.iv During this same time, President Biden’s Education Secretary, Miguel Cardona, refused to affirm parents as the “primary stakeholder” in their children’s education.v Finally, Virginia Democrat Gubernatorial Candidate Terry McAuliffe said during a debate, “I don’t think parents should be telling schools what they should teach.”vi Clearly there is a massive rift in the relationship between concerned parents and public schools.
Along with these nationally divisive incidents other local issues over the last 18 months have bred mistrust and animosity between parents and school boards. Many parents who voice their concerns to school boards regarding the teaching of critical theory are told CRT and its derivatives are not part of the curriculum. Not surprising, these parents later find these ideologies are indeed taught and encouraged in their child’s school. An Indiana school administrator explains:
“We do have Critical Race Theory in how we teach…We tell our teachers to treat students differently based on color. We tell our students that every problem is a result of ‘white men’ and that everything Western Civilization built is racist…It’s taking advantage of kids’ vulnerability and parents’ inactivity to preen over social snake oil schemes designed to create division.”vii
Mistrust of school boards is further heightened when parents find that schools are using Chromebooks to spy on families at home. Research conducted by the Center for Democracy and Technology found that more than 80% of teachers surveyed knew that their schools utilized surveillance software on school-provided student devices. One anonymous administrator told the Center that many teachers believe spying on kids will have only positive impacts on the students being surveilled.viii
Beyond curricula and technology issues, the lingering effects of COVID mandates further divides parents from school officials. According to journalist Jim Allen, “Masks and vaccines have [also] become divisive, even incendiary, issues across the Inland Northwest.”ix Parental uprisings have occurred across the country to push back on mandates largely viewed as a symbol of tyranny rather than a practical tool in disease prevention.x xi xii xiii
It is easy to focus on issues that divide us; it is much harder to find needed solutions. One way to rise above the noise is to focus on the governing system and protect the role of parents as primary stakeholders in their children’s education. With this as the “north star” of our efforts, workable solutions may be proposed.
One suggestion for focusing on the system is regular parental attendance at school board meetings. If attendance space is limited, or if every month attendance isn’t practical, team with other parents to have group representatives attend to both communicate expectations and report back to the group afterwards. Another suggestion is to build relationships with school trustees by contacting your board and asking questions on concerning issues. When asking these questions, focus on listening to the answer without debating the issue. Please remember this is a conversation, not a confrontation. Take notes during school board meetings and when meeting with board trustees. Some sample questions for your trustee may be:
- Why did you run for this office?
- What are your goals for the district?
- What outside influences play a role in curriculum or policy for our district?
- How did Chromebooks/other technology for school and home use come to be available in the district?
- How are they being monitored?
- Are you seeing any promotion of Critical Theory policy such as social and emotional learning, or diversity, equity, and inclusion policies for our district?
- How do you navigate things that compromise your beliefs?
As we listen to learn, rather than confront, we gain credibility with our board members. In doing so, we can move forward united in our efforts to restore parental engagement in their children’s education.
Jennie Bateman & Maria Brown are mothers and activists for parental involvement in education.
The Language of Liberty series is an outreach project of the Center for Self Governance, a non-profit, non-partisan educational organization, dedicated to training citizens in principles of liberty. The views expressed by the authors are their own and may not reflect the views of CSG. CenterForSelfGovernance.com
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