Those "Local" School Battles in Texas are Part of a Decades-Long Statewide Plan to Undermine Public SchoolsBreaking News
tags: Texas, school choice, privatization, public schools, education history
Joanna Day has never been a fan of horror movies, which is why she didn’t yet realize she was starring in one in real life. If you had to pick a turning point in her story, the part when everyone in the audience feels their jaws and shoulders tighten because they know—unlike the oblivious, trusting protagonist—that really bad things are about to happen, it would be when a member of the Hays County Sheriff’s Office showed up at Day’s home, in Dripping Springs.
It was a hot evening in August 2020, with the sun just about ready to give up on the day. The family was collected around the dinner table, which, thanks to its second-floor location, felt like it was in a tree house nestled in the branches of some comforting old live oaks. Day loved this house, with its rooms laid out every which way on three floors, the abundant windows filling the place with light. It was filled too with family: husband Eric, three towheaded children, two dogs, and all the accompanying detritus—kid toys, dog toys, books, and clothes dropped willy-nilly but in a good way, a happy way. Day’s indomitable optimism showed in the print hung in the stairwell with the famous Methodist maxim (“Do all the good you can by all the means you can”) and in the words on a multicolored abstract sculpture in the front yard (“Kindness can change the world one heart at a time”).
Tonight, as on most nights, plates clattered, silverware clinked, and the high-pitched voices of the kids—two boys and a girl, all under twelve—rose and fell as each competed to describe the best part of their day. “We only talk about the peak, not the pit,” is the way Day, 47 years old, describes this ritual. Focusing on the good calms the kids and fosters a positive outlook.
On this evening, though, the doorbell rang while someone was just about to get to their good part. Everyone went silent. The house sits high atop a hill on several brambly acres, a ten- to fifteen-minute drive from the middle of town. No one ever just showed up at the door, except the occasional Amazon driver, and he just tossed the packages and raced off.
The kids looked at their mom expectantly. Day pushed back from the table and trotted down the twisting flight of wooden stairs to the front door. When she opened it, a uniformed officer was holding her Lab mix, Heath, by the collar. Heath was panting proudly. How kind that he found our dog and brought him home, began Day’s internal dialogue. I have no idea how he got out.
But when Day focused on the officer’s words, she realized he wasn’t talking about the dog at all. He was young and blond and, she thought, unaccountably anxious. “We got a call about a domestic disturbance,” he said.
Now Day was confused. She didn’t know of any disturbance, except that with three kids, every day brought at least one. But rowdy children weren’t what the officer was talking about. Whoever had made the report, he said, “heard people threatening to kill each other.”
After witnessing the quizzical faces of three clearly safe kids, the officer retreated. That’s when Day started fuming. She had no proof that the dinnertime disruption was related to previous threats, but logic suggested it was. Someone was trying to rattle her, and the reason seemed clear. Day had unknowingly made one big mistake after moving to town. In 2019 she had run successfully for the Dripping Springs Independent School District’s board, a job that not long ago had been about as controversial as cafeteria lady.
But that was then.
The scenes have become weirdly familiar all across Texas. Just a few years ago, furious, placard-waving parents protested pandemic-induced school closings and mask mandates. Now that anger has been redirected toward school library books that deal with issues of race and gender and toward the supposed teaching of critical race theory, a college-level framework for examining systemic racism that is not actually taught in Texas public schools.
A school superintendent in Granbury, southwest of Fort Worth, told a group of librarians that if they aren’t conservatives, they’d “better hide it.” In the Cypress-Fairbanks ISD, northwest of Houston, three trusted incumbent school board members lost their elections, largely over their support for a resolution condemning racism. Other long-serving school board members throughout Texas have suddenly found themselves having to defend teachers who have been labeled, without a shred of evidence, as pedophiles or “groomers.” A Grapevine high school imposed new rules that led to a student walkout, with students calling the rules transphobic. Texas recently took the national lead in book banning (a frequent target is The Bluest Eye, by Nobel Prize winner Toni Morrison), and some school librarians who tried to hold the line against unwarranted censorship became targets of death threats.