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After the pandemic pitted parents and schools against each other over everything from learning loss to gender identity, a wave of frustrated parents decided to run for school board themselves.
In November, many of them won their races.
Conservatives flipped at least nine school boards in at least six states — Michigan, Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, New Jersey, and Florida — giving them conservative majorities, according to two parental rights groups who endorsed many of the victorious candidates.
In other districts, conservative parents did not manage to capture their school board’s majority, but those who did win now act as a thorn in the side of the progressive majority.
Here are five of those moms and dads, who now sit on the very school boards they worked to hold accountable and are working from the inside to change their districts for the better.
In progressive California, conservative moms and dads won school board seats in several areas.
Laurene McCoy, a mom, wife, and pastor, ran and won a seat on the school board of the Paso Robles Joint Unified School District, about 200 miles north of Los Angeles.
McCoy said she decided to run because when the pandemic hit, she started seeing unsettling trends in the district, including sinking test scores and more violence in school. Before that, she had never paid much attention to her local school board, she said.
“We’ve got full-time jobs. We’ve got so many things to do, but it’s so important that we get involved right now, because if we don’t, we’re gonna lose our children,” McCoy told The Daily Wire.
As a board member, McCoy’s goal is to get parents more involved in their children’s education.
The gender identity issue is one problem the Paso Robles district has already had to deal with, she said.
“Everybody’s entitled to believe and do and live their personal lifestyle the way that they want,” she said. “The problem for me comes when you bring that in school and my children become confused.”
“I’m not okay with my children having to be forced to be in a locker room with somebody of a biological different gender than they are,” she said. “I definitely believe in science and biology, that God made men, men and God made women, women.”
“They’re already going through puberty. They’re going through so many other things. It’s already weird. So why would we put them in a situation where it has to be super weird?” she added.
McCoy said she wants to find a solution that doesn’t involve putting children in an unsafe environment. She also wants adults to start asking more questions about why a child might say they are a different gender.
“We have to figure out what the root of these problems are and not just be like, oh, you’re sad today and you want to do this, okay,” she said. “It’s okay to be nosy. I’ve learned that God made me nosy on purpose.”
During her campaign, McCoy said she and her family faced racial attacks by people who disagreed with her on the gender identity issue.
“You want your transgender child to be accepted, but then you turn around and do something like that. It just really shows me where people are,” she said.
So far, McCoy has had some “interesting dynamics” with the superintendent, but she laughed that “maybe I’ve just got to work that out.”
“I do notice that there are a few cliques … you can tell who the favorites are,” she said.
“I’m nosy and I ask a lot of questions until I feel comfortable with the answer,” McCoy concluded. “There’s a lot of work to do. I feel like people definitely need to start being held accountable for not only their actions, but the things that are taking place in our schools, in our community, and the safety of our children.”
In Florida, two conservative candidates flipped the Pinellas County Schools board near Tampa.
Stephanie Meyer, a mom of three, was one of those successful candidates.
As a board member, she prioritized making school board meetings accessible online. Meyer said she was able to get her fellow board members to agree to restore the livestream for the public comment portion of the Pinellas County school board meetings. Previously, the livestream had been turned off during public comment, she said.
“That really is a disservice to families,” she told The Daily Wire, “because families might find out about issues that are going on at their child’s school that way. Or maybe that parent is also having the same issue and then they can work together to get a resolution.”
“I think it really is an opportunity for us to regain the trust of the public,” she added. “It’s an easy and simple way for us to show the public that we do want to hear what they have to say and that we aren’t in the business of hiding grievances that families and taxpayers may have against this government organization.”
Before running for school board, Meyer left her job at a Fortune 100 company to become a local social studies teacher and college professor in Pinellas County, where she grew up and went to public school.
As the years went on, however, Meyer said failing grades and student behavioral problems made her unwilling to send her own children to the same schools she once attended. Meanwhile, teachers were being pushed to focus more on things like race, she claimed.
“We’ve just seen such a huge shift in our public school system and the fundamental ideals behind it,” she said. “We want our kids to grow up and become responsible, equipped adults. We don’t want this time that they spend in a K-12 classroom eight hours a day being wasted with political rhetoric and ideological garbage.”
For one thing, Meyer said the Pinellas district needs to formulate a “clear policy” on parental consent and gender identity that mirrors Florida state law.
In March, Governor Ron DeSantis signed Florida’s parental rights bill, dubbed “Don’t Say Gay” by opponents, which prohibits classroom instruction on sexual orientation or gender identity in kindergarten through third grade.
During Meyer’s campaign, she faced an odd attack. Her opposition sent out a flyer accusing her of supporting Critical Race Theory and gender ideology, an apparent attempt to confuse voters about her conservative credentials.
Meyer was irked that the previous school board had limited discussion on items up for a vote. The board has also given up too much power to the administration, she said. Now, she’s “picking apart” the school board agendas and asking more questions. She’s also going through the district’s policies and making sure they line up with Florida law, especially the new parental rights law.
Ultimately, her goal is more accountability, transparency, and partnership with parents in their child’s education, she said.
“My intent is not to cause frustration or contempt,” she said. “My goal is to accurately, fairly, transparently reflect the ideas, the goals, the desires of our district and the taxpayers and families of our district. And that’s what I’m going to do.”
In another corner of California, dad of three Jonathan Zachreson now sits on the Roseville City School District school board, just north of Sacramento, where his son will soon go to school.
Zachreson was spurred to run for school board after schools shuttered during the pandemic. He founded Reopen California Schools, a parental rights group, in June 2020, and pushed for months to get kids back in classrooms across the state.
“When we got the email right before spring break started that it was going to be another month [of school closures], I was like this is not okay, and that’s when I really started getting involved,” Zachreson told The Daily Wire.
“Prior to that, I really wasn’t involved. I wasn’t on social media. I didn’t know who my school board members were. I knew who my governor was and president was,” he laughed.
So far, Zachreson has not seen very many blatant examples of gender ideology or other political agendas being foisted on students in the district, but he wants to make sure it stays that way.
“I don’t want to see our district on the news,” he said.
As of the current school year, a California law requires schools to provide menstrual products in boys’ bathrooms for sixth graders and up.
The Roseville district cannot “throw our hands up” and kowtow to the state, Zachreson said. “We need to be creative in the ways that we serve the needs of our communities and protect kids, even if we’re in a hostile state like California.”
He draws a hard line in the sand when it comes to gender identity policies that don’t include parental notification.
“That’s something I will not allow,” Zachreson said.
Zachreson’s goals as a board member include nailing down exactly what the district’s policies are on controversial issues like gender identity and bathrooms. He also wants to examine whether certain teacher trainings are political or simply “fluff” that doesn’t actually help the kids. Zachreson also said it appears the district removed the YouTube videos of some school board meetings, and he disagrees with that decision.
Another major change Zachreson would like to see is the local teachers union disaffiliating from the California Teachers Association, which he says has been “incredibly harmful” on education policy.
“They really aren’t there for the interest of the kids. They’re very political in the realm outside of even education,” he said.
In Arkansas, mom of three Wendy Potter was the sole parental rights candidate running in her district. She beat her opponent, the incumbent, who is a law professor.
Before the pandemic, Potter said she had never even gone to a school board meeting. Now, she sits on the board for the Pulaski County Special School District, where two of her children go to school. The large district encircles Little Rock and serves about 12,000 students at 25 schools.
Potter realized she had to get involved back in August 2021 when the district announced it was going back to mandatory face masks for children. She was “infuriated,” she said.
“I’m a firm believer in parents’ rights, and I was not okay with that. Clearly masks were not working,” Potter told The Daily Wire.
Potter and two other parents successfully petitioned the school board to hold a special meeting to revisit the face mask issue, and at that “really tense” meeting, they convinced the board to make masks optional.
“It was at that point that I just realized that if I didn’t get involved then nobody else really seemed to want to do it,” Potter said. “I just felt like it was sort of like a God thing.”
Potter believes some of the district’s teachers push their political agenda on kids, something she has already brought to the attention of the principals. This year, her son’s math teacher wore a Black Lives Matter shirt and had an LGBT pride flag hanging in her classroom during the first week of school, she said. When her son was in seventh grade, she claims, he came home with a survey from his math class that asked him how comfortable he was sitting next to kids of other races.
“Sometimes it feels like a power struggle, and it’s unnecessary,” Potter said. “They tend to try to keep parents in the dark about a lot of things, and that’s one thing that I really want to work on changing.”
Aside from the political concerns, Potter said she is also concerned about sinking test scores, failing discipline policies, and nepotism in administration hiring decisions.
Although she ran without the solidarity of other local conservative candidates, Potter is ready to tackle the district’s issues. She wants to review the district’s discipline policies, make more resources available to parents, and make the district “100% transparent” about finances, which includes holding people accountable for bad purchases.
She slammed the district for spending thousands of taxpayer dollars to send teachers to conferences in Dallas, Orlando, and Las Vegas.
The Pulaski County district sent more than 300 teachers to a conference in Dallas, more than 70 teachers to a conference in Orlando, and seven teachers to a conference in Las Vegas, according to records obtained through FOIA requests that were viewed by The Daily Wire and confirmed by the district’s communications director. Expenses included stays at a Waldorf Astoria and Caesar’s Palace, where the Las Vegas conference was held.
Mills Middle School team at the Innovative School Summit in LAS Vegas!! pic.twitter.com/qGvgkGRUHx
— Mills Middle School (@MillsMiddle) July 9, 2022
Like Meyer, Potter prioritized making the livestreams of school board meetings accessible to parents watching at home. She requested that the livestreams show a screen in the room used for presentations. Previously, the screen could not be seen on the livestream, she said.
In southern Michigan, four parental rights school board candidates flipped the Brandywine Community Schools board from liberal to conservative.
Tom Payne, a father and grandfather, was elected Brandywine’s school board president. He and his family have lived in the area for 40 years.
Payne said he was spurred to run by concerns that the schools were potentially pushing Critical Race Theory and an LGBT agenda as well as the district’s academic performance, which he dubbed “mediocre at best.” One parent also expressed concern about a teacher who remarked negatively to teenagers about the reversal of Roe v. Wade, the landmark Supreme Court case legalizing abortion, Payne said.
“The response from the community was overwhelming that they were concerned,” Payne told The Daily Wire. “They wanted someone that not only had the best interest of the students, but would be an advocate for the parents.”
Payne took pictures of copious LGBT flyers around the schools, including one that warned kids they could get kicked out or put in danger if they tell their parents they are LGBT. Another flyer encouraged LGBT kids to connect with “local experts.”
As a first step, Brandywine’s new conservative school board has formed a slew of committees dedicated to various issues.
A curriculum committee will consult parents as it does a deep dive into the current curriculum and decides whether to change it. A sex education advisory board will provide oversight of the sex education curriculum. A separate committee will address sexually explicit books in the library. Another committee will work to promote more community and parental involvement in the schools. A new Parent-Guardian Curriculum Transparency Committee will work to streamline curriculum access for parents so they will not have to submit a FOIA request just to see what their child is learning.
“It’s easy to say we’re doing what’s in the best interest of the kids because everyone is saying that,” Payne said. “But we really are.”