Critical Race Theory Battle Invades School Boards — with Help from Conservative GroupsBreaking News
tags: culture war, teaching history, critical race theory, Dark Money
A booby-trapped billboard. A list of demands. A conservative media frenzy.
Jeff Porter, superintendent of a wealthy suburban school district in Maine, had no idea that his community was about to become part of a national battle when in the summer of 2020 a father began accusing the district of trying to “indoctrinate” his children by teaching critical race theory.
To Porter, the issue was straightforward: The district had denounced white supremacy in the wake of George Floyd’s murder by police, but did not teach critical race theory, the academic study of racism’s pervasive impact.
But the parent, Shawn McBreairty, grew increasingly disgruntled and soon connected with No Left Turn in Education, a rapidly growing national group that supports parents as they fight against lessons on systemic racism. That action turned a heated conflict with the school board into one that soon drew national attention, mobilized by a new, increasingly coordinated movement with the backing of major conservative organizations and media outlets.
It’s a movement that has amped up grassroots parental organizing around the country, bringing the lens and stakes of national politics — along with the playbook of seasoned GOP activists — to school boards.
“I was very naïve at the beginning of the year,” Porter said. “I thought it was a concerned parent who had taken it a little too far. I didn't understand this until recently, but these were tactics from national organizations to discredit the entire district.”
Virtually all school districts insist they are not teaching critical race theory, but many activists and parents have begun using it as a catch-all term to refer to what schools often call equity programs, teaching about racism or LGBTQ-inclusive policies.
Now, conservative activists are setting their sights on ousting as many school board members as they can, and local Republican Parties have vowed to help, viewing the revolt against critical race theory as akin to the tea party wave from a decade ago.
Activists and parents have launched 50 recall efforts this year aimed at unseating 126 school board members, according to a new report from Ballotpedia, a website that tracks U.S. politics and elections. Most of those recalls — which already surpass the record for a single year — started as objections to Covid-19 restrictions, but five of the most recently launched campaigns, including a particularly contentious fight in Loudoun County, Virginia, include concerns about critical race theory.
And, in a new development this year, rather than targeting a single member, these efforts often target multiple members or entire school boards, according to Abbey Smith, a researcher at Ballotpedia.