Over the last year, school board meetings nationwide have been the center of heated debates over contentious issues like mask and vaccine mandates for students, critical race theory in classrooms, and more. Rather than reform their practices to reflect the will of parents — whose taxes pay their salaries — school boards have increasingly turned to a number of tactics and stratagems that muzzle parents from influencing their own children’s schooling.
Many school officials seem to treat parents’ ability to comment on their children’s education as a fully revokable indulgence extended by the government. For instance, the Ohio School Boards Association informs parents that, under state law, “There is not a legal requirement that [school board] meetings afford the public an opportunity to comment or otherwise participate in the meeting.” A number of districts seemingly tell parents they should consider themselves privileged to address such an august body of learned bureaucrats.
As parents persist in making their voices heard, school boards have increasingly restricted “public comment” at school board meetings. Here are five of the most common roadblocks school boards erect to parental rights:
1. Forcing parents to publicly dox themselves at tense school board meetings
School board officials claim they have faced death threats, obscene phone calls, and demonstrations outside their homes. Yet, they often ask parents to publicly state their name and full street address before addressing the same crowds which administrators insist pose a threat of imminent violence.
“Each speaker is asked to state his or her name and home address for the record. Failure to do so will result in an individual not being allowed to speak,” said chairwoman Jodi Sapp of the Mankato (Minnesota) Area Public Schools on October 18. When a parent made multiple attempts to avoid giving his precise address, Sapp made clear that only a complete street address would suffice. “My name is John Wicklund, and I live in Mankato,” an unhappy father said as he introduced himself. “John, you need to give your address,” Sapp replied. “I live on Fifth Street,” he said. “House number?” she demanded, which he supplied.
A similar policy holds in Prince William County, Virginia. “When you are called to the podium, please state your name and address for the record,” said chairman Barbur Lateef at a recent meeting. In their case, parents may give the school board their address privately and say, “My address is on file” at the podium.
2. Speak only to agenda items approved by school board members
Other school districts have seized upon another way of stifling parents’ dissent: Forcing parents to comment only on agenda items approved by the school board. By implication, if the school board does not approve discussion of certain topics —such as vaccine mandates or controversial Critical Race Theory — parents must forever hold their peace.
Once again, the policy found a home in Mankato, Minnesota. “Beginning at the November 1st school board meeting open forum participation will be limited to those individuals who wish to speak to an item on the board agenda. The board agendas are always made available the Thursday prior to our meetings and they are always on the district’s website,” Sapp said on October 18.
Again, the Prince Williams County (Virginia) School Board also adopted a new policy on September 15 that limits parental/taxpayer comments in part by insisting that all comments be “confined to the subject of the hearing,” as well as insisting parents address these topics “directly” — a word the policy uses six times.
3. Sign an NDA to see your child’s curriculum
Parents in Loudoun County, Virginia, have raised serious questions about the impact of an “anti-racist” syllabus adopted by the school district known as the “Second Step” curriculum. Public school officials eventually allowed parents to see what their employees are teaching the area’s children — but only if they first sign a non-disclosure agreement-like document.
The district policy informs those signing that this is not a “public” document and that “copying, broadcast or recording of any kind is prohibited.” While the school says this has been done to protect the commercial value of the curriculum, parents note that other commercial curricula have no such restrictions. The policy potentially bars parents from telling others the contents of a curriculum paid for by their own tax dollars.
4. ‘F*** you,’ ‘A**hole’: Vile insults hurled at parents
Although the legacy media frequently caricature conservative parents as profane bullies, it is often school board members themselves who hurl demeaning insults at parents. Last Tuesday, concerned mother Lauren Roupoli told a meeting of the Los Alamitos Unified School Board of Education that parents spoke out on mask and vaccine mandates for one reason: “We are vocal, because we are our children’s biggest advocates.” President Marlys Davidson responded by saying, “F*** you.” Her profane outburst was caught on a hot mic.
That was but one of a number of such incidents. In late spring, a parent named Rich Tyson told his local school board members, “You work for us” and drew a scathing retort. “You’re not gonna stand up here and do anything to me, a**hole,” said board member William Yaeger of Penfield, New York. The two came close to having a physical altercation but other members of the board restrained Yaeger.
Los Alamitos (CA) School Board President, Marlys Davidson, didn’t realize her mic was still on and said “F*** You” to a parent sharing their concerns about vaccine and mask mandates. @dbongino @seanhannity @JackPosobiec @DonaldJTrumpJr @IngrahamAngle pic.twitter.com/BFJnFZ5tvh
— Rachel Sandoval (@thesoapypea) October 27, 2021
After a parent asked NY school board member Bill Yaeger to be respectful to other parents, Yaeger told him, “You're not gonna stand up here and do anything to me, a**hole.” The parent then confronts him & Yaeger is physicallyMasks. pic.twitter.com/xD3E25DChC
— Amanda (@AmandaPresto) June 9, 2021
5. Calling on the Justice Department to investigate parents under the Patriot Act
At the risk of understatement, calling on the federal government to investigate parents whose actions you describe as harassing or threatening chills robust public debate. Still, the National School Boards Association appealed to the Biden administration’s Justice Department to investigate parental outbursts, which “could be the equivalent to a form of domestic terrorism and hate crimes,” prodding the DOJ to use the Patriot Act if necessary. The NSBA later apologized for its letter.
Attorney General Merrick Garland almost instantaneously issued a memorandum stating, “The Department takes these incidents seriously and is committed to using its authority and resources to discourage these threats, identify them when they occur, and prosecute them when appropriate.” Under oath before the Senate Judiciary Committee last Wednesday, Garland admitted to Senator John Kennedy (R-LA) that “most” of the incidents cited to justify the federal intervention did not involve violence of any kind.
Complete exchange between @SenTomCotton and Attorney Merrick General Garland on school board memo.
Cotton concludes: “Thank God you are not on the Supreme Court. You should resign in disgrace, Judge.” pic.twitter.com/PunUjPUwte
— CSPAN (@cspan) October 27, 2021
These tactics will only increase as parents and the public education establishment remain divided over the demands of teachers unions. “The teachers unions have pitted themselves against the regular parents, the regular Americans out there … in a variety of ways, whether it’s mask mandates or the vaccine mandates, or them refusing to come into class,” Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-TX) recently told Brian Kilmeade. “The parents were really, really getting frustrated with the school closures over the past year-and-a-half, the mask-wearing that everybody knows is unnecessary for small children, and [public school administrators] just keep doing it, anyway.”
As President Joe Biden basks in the memory of his recent meeting with Pope Francis, he may want to reflect on what his church teaches about the inalienable right of parents to control their children’s education. “[P]arents have the right to choose a school for them which corresponds to their own convictions. This right is fundamental,” according to the Catechism of the Catholic Church. “Public authorities have the duty of guaranteeing this parental right and of ensuring the concrete conditions for its exercise.”
At a minimum, that ought to include the right to speak at their children’s school board meetings without silencing, fear, intimidation, or harassment. Should a “devout Catholic” like Biden harbor any qualms about assuring such a reasonable request?
The views expressed in this piece are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent those of The Daily Wire.
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