Parents-Rights Candidates Find Success in Local School-Board Races
Some think they’ve found a winning formula, at least in some parts of the country.
South Carolina’s Charleston County went for Joe Biden over Donald Trump by 13 points in 2020. But after last week’s election, the county’s school board will soon have a majority of first-time candidates who ran on a platform of parents’ rights, a movement associated more with Republicans than with Democrats.
How did that happen?
“If you mess with a mama bear’s cubs, what does she do? She rips your head off. You start messing with our kids, that’s where we draw the line,” said Tara Wood, who chairs the Charleston County chapter of Moms for Liberty, which endorsed all six candidates.
Moms for Liberty opposes mask mandates in public schools, affirmation of transgenderism, explicit sex education for elementary-school students, critical race theory, and alternative-sexuality books in school libraries. It stands for discipline in schools, encouraging patriotism, and providing parents with detailed information about what schools are teaching.
“Parents spoke with their vote on Nov. 8. Knowledge is power,” Wood told the Register in a telephone interview. “I just think we did a good job educating the community about what was happening [in the schools].”
Five of the eight Moms for Liberty candidates won outright. A sixth lost to an incumbent who withdrew shortly before the race and has moved out of state. The governor is expected to appoint the second-place finisher in that race to the seat, giving the slate a 6-3 majority, Wood told the Register.
Unusual Times for School-Board Elections
Most local school-board races in the United States are nonpartisan, meaning candidates appear on the ballot without a party designation. Elections are usually hyperlocal and have often turned on a candidate’s involvement in schools and youth sports, among other things. They don’t usually turn on national or even regional issues — until now.
“I’ve been doing this 17 years. I’ve never had a school-board candidate ask to come on the radio,” said conservative talk-show host Casey Hendrickson during a preelection interview with two candidates in Brandywine, Michigan, endorsed by a political action committee called We The Parents. (Both won, as did two others, and the new majority on the school board will be pro-parents’ rights.)
Activist parents unhappy with the direction of their local public schools may be a factor in local school-board races for some time to come, a political analyst told the Register.
“More than the discussion of pronouns and gender — although that’s part of what’s being called the ‘woke’ ideology — is the increasing interest of parents to participate in the education and the general education climate of their children,” said Michael Kryzanek, professor emeritus of political science at Bridgewater State University in Massachusetts. “I think down the road it will be much more of a concern for teachers in how they approach topics — whether it’s biology class, phys. ed. or history. It is likely that school officials will face increased scrutiny and criticism from parents and parent groups regarding policies on textbook choices, curriculum, homework assignments, and the status of gay and transgender students.”
In Florida, where Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, during the past few months, endorsed 30 candidates for local school boards who ran on parents-rights platforms, almost all won.
The results stem from what parents learned about their children’s schools during the coronavirus shutdowns, when classes went online and could therefore be observed in the home, said Dr. Grazie Pozo Christie, a radiologist, a Catholic mother of five, and a DeSantis appointee to the State Board of Education in Florida.
“Parents know that things have changed at school, and they’ve been getting inklings of it, but it has accelerated,” Christie told the Register.
As a state board member, she said, she has heard concerns from parents about critical race theory, gender-identity policy, and sexuality instruction to young children.
A nationwide exit poll during the midterms found that 50% of voters said “society’s values on gender identity and sexual orientation” are “changing for the worse,” against 26% who said they are changing for the better and 21% who said neither is true.
Christie, when asked about how local school-board races don’t always reflect state and national election results, praised a Catholic social teaching called subsidiarity, which says (among other things) that power should be exercised at as local a level as possible.
“That’s the reason subsidiarity is so important. People can see the impact of things when they see it up close,” Christie said. “It’s so great that parents are taking initiative and wanting to clean up the schools that their children are suffering in.”
The parental-rights movement touches upon a principle of Catholic social teaching in another way, too. The Catholic Church has long taught that parents are the primary educators of their children.
Parents have the “original, primary and inalienable right” to educate their children, states the Vatican’s Charter of the Rights of the Family. The Catechism of the Catholic Church says that parents’ role in education is “of such importance that it is almost impossible to provide an adequate substitute” (2221).
Pope Francis has said, “Parents shouldn’t exclude themselves from the education of their children. … The relationship between family and school ought to be harmonious.”
“If family education regains its prominence, many things will change for the better. It’s time for fathers and mothers to return from their exile — they have exiled themselves from educating their children — and slowly reassume their educative role,” the Pope said in May 2015.
Gains in Swing Areas
Gains among parents-rights candidates have taken place in conservative areas, but also in swing areas.
In Frederick County, Maryland, one of newly elected board of education members is Nancy Allen, a member of a slate called Education Not Indoctrination, whose members criticized the current board of education over a sex-education curriculum earlier this year. (Her two fellow slate members lost.)
“This curriculum is not age-appropriate for the 5- to 8-year-olds and takes away from the focus on academics. The family unit, no matter what the makeup of the family is or looks like for a student, is where the values and the morals are taught. It is a parent’s decision to decide when to have that discussion with their child about sex, about gender and about different types of families,” Allen said during a board of education meeting in April.
Biden carried Frederick County over Trump in 2020, 53% to 44%.
That’s not so surprising, said Aiden Buzzetti, head of coalitions and candidate recruitment for 1776 Project PAC, which supports conservative candidates for local school boards across the country.
“What I’ve been seeing personally is a lot of the more swing areas have had some of the biggest parent movements, because conservative parents have felt the need to pay attention in the first place,” said Buzzetti, who told the Register that the super political action committee has “officially flipped our 100th school board since our first election in November 2021.”
Local conflicts over public education are making inroads beyond religion, he said.
“What we’re seeing now is a lot of backlash to the lockdowns, the gender theory, the critical race theory — that kind of stuff. It’s animating a lot of parents, not just Christian parents,” Buzzetti said.
Trying to Keep ‘Woke’ Out
Carroll County in Maryland is conservative. Voters there went for Donald Trump over Joe Biden in 2020, 60% to 36%.
But as recently as five or six years ago, most people didn’t pay attention to the political or social leanings of school-board candidates, said Steve Whisler, a parents-rights candidate this year.
Now they do.
Whisler is one of two parents-rights candidates projected to win seats on the county’s school board once remaining votes are counted. The projected victories will maintain a 4-1 parents-rights majority on the board.
Whisler taught full time between 2014 and 2018, including middle school and elementary school. He told the Register he left partly because school administrators worried about suspension rates would not deal with chronic behavioral problems that disrupted classes.
He filed to run for Carroll County’s school board in January 2022 and began campaigning in February, including door-knocking; $300 to $500 a month in Facebook ads online; $600 to $800 a month on print ads; and four mailings to every voter who requested an early ballot.
“You typically don’t see that kind of concerted effort in lower-ballot races,” Whisler said. “I just think we out-campaigned them.”
It wasn’t cheap. Whisler invested about $20,000 of his own money in the campaign, got about $5,000 from relatives, and raised about $10,000 to $15,000 more in donations.
Why did he do it?
Whisler has a 12-year-old daughter in the county’s public schools. He sees race theories, gender identity and other social concerns getting emphasis in public schools elsewhere, and he doesn’t want that coming into his county. In addition, he wants to see the local school system continue to offer a health-curriculum alternative to the state’s health curriculum, which recommends teaching seventh-graders in detail about several non-reproductive sex acts.
“They’re using the guise of preventing pregnancy to teach this nonsense,” Whisler said. “I don’t want to see my kids exposed to this stuff. I don’t think most parents want their kids exposed to this stuff.”
- school boards
- parents' rights
- school curricula
- 'gender ideology'
- woke ideology
- critical race theory
- public schools
- sex education
- matt mcdonald