COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — In a school district near the Ohio state capital, school Board members up for reelection this year have been subjected to a steady stream of lawsuits and attacks, both in-person and online. In another, an incumbent up for reelection who supports student mask requirements received a letter from someone angered by her stance who warned: “We are coming after you.”
A 15-year veteran Board member in yet another Ohio district decided against running for reelection because of the escalating public attacks.
It’s not just in Ohio. Across the US, local school Board races have emerged as an intense political battleground in the Nov. 2 elections, with much at stake for students.
Parental protests over COVID-19-related mask mandates, gender-neutral bathrooms, and teachings about racial history, sexuality and social-emotional learning are being leveraged into full-fledged Board takeover campaigns that will get their first widespread test in just a few weeks.
“What’s happening in 2021 is a prelude to some of the messaging, some of the issues we’ll see going into the midterm elections,” said Scott DiMauro, president of the Ohio Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union.
Local school Board elections typically have been relatively quiet affairs where incumbents sail to reelection, often unopposed. This year, candidate training academies organized by national conservative groups and state-level recruitment efforts are encouraging challenges by right-leaning political newcomers. The results could have consequences for public education and Coronavirus safety measures across the country.
The thousands of local school districts in the US make it difficult to know how many sitting Board members are facing challenges next month from conservative-leaning community members. But the challenges appear widespread.
In Wisconsin, a conservative legal institute is providing free legal advice on school Board recalls to parent groups. In Iowa, Gov. Kim Reynolds, a Republican, has taken the unusual step of endorsing a conservative candidate for a local school Board seat. And in Colorado, a group calling itself MAD that opposes remote-learning during the pandemic and what it says are partisan leanings in curriculum is endorsing like-minded school Board candidates.
“It feels like schools have become a political battleground, and they shouldn’t be,” said Dan Maloit, a former Army Green Beret who runs the Colorado group. “Kids should be able to walk in and not know what their teachers believe politically or their administrators and be protected from what society’s arguing about so that they can focus on learning to read and write, understanding math, learning an unbiased history.”
Teachers unions, which for years have helped elect their own allies to school Boards, are opposing the push. Their position is that many right-wing candidates are conspiracy theorists who are taking moderate positions to get elected, but once in office will oppose mask requirements and other COVID safety protocols, micromanage educators and censor classroom content they dislike.