The increasingly wild world of school board meetings

Late last month, the National School Boards Association, a group that has represented school boards since 1940, made an unusual request to the federal government. “Threats of violence and intimidation” against school officials were escalating across the country, the association said, and called on the Biden administration to investigate and investigate. use “existing laws, executive power” and “other extraordinary measures” to combat a phenomenon he equates to domestic terrorism. On Monday, Attorney General Merrick Garland exposed such incidents and ordered the FBI to monitor them.

If you want evidence of what the association and Garland responded to, it’s easy to find it in YouTube videos and local reports by the score – the protesters vibrate enough with the energy of January 6 as they disrupt school board meetings, raging over mask warrants and the like COVID precautions, or that favorite spectral horror, critical race theory. (The NSBA letter wearily explains that “Critical Race Theory is not taught in public schools and remains a complex law school and graduate subject far beyond the scope of a class K-12. “) Since the summer, these confrontations have become social. media staples, familiar enough that “Saturday Night Live” would make it a perfect parody for its season opener.

After a school board meeting in Williamson County, Tennessee, a group of protesters surrounded a doctor who had testified on behalf of students wearing masks, shouting, “You are a child molester,” “We know who you are ”and“ You will never be allowed in public again. In San Diego County, Calif., In September, anti-mask protesters forced their way into a school board meeting and attempted to be sworn in as new, unelected members. At a chaotic meeting in Buncombe, North Carolina, parents opposed to a mask warrant announced that they, too, had “toppled” the school board. Members of the far-right Proud Boys have appeared twice with their faces covered at school board meetings in Nashua, New Hampshire; in Vancouver, Oregon, the Proud Boys were given access to school grounds during anti-mask protests, which resulted in schools being locked down. At a meeting of the Loudoun County School Board in Virginia, which was reviewing the district’s policies for transgender students and racial equity, enraged conservatives got so out of control that the board chairman halted proceedings while the police were cleaning the room.

Write to Washington To post recently Adam Laats, Professor of Education at Binghamton University SUN, suggested that these explosions can “be understood as a policy of petulance. At times when American culture has taken a progressive turn, conservatives have always blamed only one culprit for indoctrinating vulnerable young people with radical ideas: public schools. The appeal of school board meetings to such manifestations of frustration, Laats told me, is “that they are usually so accessible; there is an open mic aspect to them.

Laats wrote a book, “The Other School Reformers,” on the history of conservative unrest around public schools, which clearly shows that there are precedents for the current eruptions. Perhaps most prominent is the parental uprising in Kanawha County, West Virginia, in 1974 against the adoption of a new series of literary textbooks that some believed to promote anti-American sentiments. The protests turned into a boycott of the district’s schools, attracting national media attention, and quickly turned violent. Textbook opponents shot at school buses and empty classrooms, bombed the school board building and threw stones at parents who still took their children to school. Although the textbooks were eventually adopted and the rage over them seemed to fade, the West Virginia Parents’ Uprising had a wider impact on social conservatism. It helped kick-start the modern home schooling and Christian school movements, says Heath Brown, a political scientist at John Jay College who has studied home schooling activists, as some parents have withdrawn from public schools altogether. following the boycott. The West Virginia Textbook Battle propelled the Heritage Foundation, then a small upstart organization, now a giant of conservative politics, onto the national stage. Heritage, Laats shows, provided free legal advice to protesters and made connections between their local crusade and the broader defense of parental rights and freedoms.

Conservative groups, including Heritage, are clearly hoping for a similar outcome today. In an article on the Heritage website, Katharine Cornell Gorka points out what she saw as a good side of all the home schooling the kids had done during the pandemic: “Whether this is age-inappropriate sex education , a critical race theory, or anti-American history, parents see more of what their children are learning – through virtual learning about COVID – and they don’t like it. And parental anger at masks and anti-racist education, fueled by national figures such as Tucker Carlson, on Fox, and Charlie Kirk, of Turning Point USA, has helped galvanize school board recall efforts to promote new candidates for councils and for other local offices and to move bills forward. (Twenty-eight states have restricted the teaching of critical race theory, according to the Chalkbeat Education Information website.) Rabies has also spurred the growth of new organizations, with names like Moms for Liberty and No Left Turn in Education. An account of the movement in Politico notes that “tapping into the anger over racism education is now a unifying force in campaigns for Congress, the governor and among Republicans with presidential ambitions.”

Yet what is most striking about so many of these school board shows is not their political valence, but the feeling they exude from an anonymous commentary section coming to life. They seem to represent the trollification of real local politics. There could be a legitimate, even passionate, debate to be had about wearing a mask. (In the UK, for example, schoolchildren don’t have to wear them, and even here not all public health experts agree with the CDC that they are necessary.) But, in in many cases, legitimate debate is not what is on offer. Online, it is generally believed, people sometimes say the sort of poisonous things that they wouldn’t do in person; but, in these public forums, they all seem ready to do it. They boo and laugh at people who express an opinion different from theirs. They find ways to evoke and rant against child trafficking plots. In one notorious case, in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, onlookers laughed as a high school student, Grady Knox, described the loss of his grandmother to COVID. A woman behind him was holding a sign that read “Let our children smile”. The “children” or, more often in this kind of rhetoric, “the children”, are usually props and symbols in these scenes; it’s a parents’ war, and they especially don’t want to hear the students talk. “At these school board meetings, the students tried a lot to get enrolled,” Laats told me. “They’ve been the order of the day at times, but they’re left out of the discussion because the parents are screaming and screaming and the cops have to take them out.”

Amy Evans, a pediatrician who practices near Grundy County with little immunization, told Washington To post this week she “has seen more infections in the past two months than the rest of the pandemic combined.” (Only seventeen percent of young people between the ages of twelve and seventeen have been vaccinated in this state; nationally, the figure is fifty-two percent.) Some of her patients wanted to wear face masks. school, she said, but were afraid. “They were more concerned about the reaction of parents who would be opposed to the masks,” she said. “Adults don’t allow children to do the right thing. Justice Department efforts can help, but they could also spark more fury against a familiar target: the federal government. It’s up to the adults in the room to let go of their dreams of going viral and doing better.

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