Protesting outside of schools is no longer a young person's game. Gone are the days when students were the main group using their voices to evoke change. The newest group to understand their power is the one that has always had it: parents. These days, masses of parents are surrounding schools and school board meetings. Most people have seen videos of maniacal parents screaming at superintendents about a plethora of school based issues. Some school board members, fearful of attacks, have had to become more diligent about harassment. While COVID-19 protocols and mask mandates at the beginning of 2021 sparked massive parent outrage across the country, Critical Race Theory, book banning, and teaching LGBTQIA+ topics have become the most hotly contested issues over the past few months.
The rise of the parental takeover of school boards is occurring nationwide. Though most parents have always had interest in their children’s education, this new wave of parent activists believe that they should be the final deciders of school board decisions. Due to the constantly changing standards brought about by the pandemic, parents have felt left out of major schooling decisions. Parents have started to run for school board seats, running on platforms that encourage pro-Christian and Trumpian values in schooling. Clarice Shillinger, founder of Back To School PA, is currently running for lieutenant governor in Pennsylvania. Shillinger cited her fear of parents being left out of decision making for her candidacy.
Family groups that support parent-oriented school board candidates have been on the rise. One example is Moms for Liberty, their most popular phrase being "We do not co-parent with the government." The major distrust parents have created with school boards has led to recall attempts. In 2021, there were 90 recall attempts for school board members. For the last 12 years, the average for recall attempts has been around 30 per year. In 34 states there are around 180 active parents rights groups. Their attention grabbing views have been focused on book banning and censoring LGBTQIA+ and BIPOC voices in the classroom.
A high school in Athens, Tennessee found itself receiving national media attention after banning the book Maus from its eighth grade curriculum. Mike Cocrhon, one of the school board members who spearheaded this effort, stated, “It looks like the entire curriculum is developed to normalize sexuality, normalize nudity, and normalize vulgar language.” Apparently, Mr. Cocrhon views this Pulitzer prize winning graphic novel as inappropriate for its use of the word "bitch," overlooking its valuable insight into the history of the Holocaust. Other books that are being banned around the country include Beloved, Of Mice and Men, The Color Purple, and To Kill a Mockingbird.
Politicians have noted this push among parents to play a greater role in shaping their children’s education. Florida passed a Parents' Bill of Rights that stated, “The Florida Supreme Court has likewise recognized that parents have a fundamental liberty interest in determining the care and upbringing of their children.” Florida Governor Rob Desantis has championed these Bill of Rights that has been most often called the “Don’t Say Gay” bill. Teachers are no longer allowed to teach children about gender identity or sexuality. If the school decides to go ahead and teach topics pertaining to LGBTQ identities, parents are encouraged to sue the school district. This bill has come under attack publicly due to its harmful effects on LGBTQ youth. The Trevor Project, which is a suicide prevention organization for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and questioning youth, has found that suicide rates for LGBTQ youth lowers when they have safe spaces to talk about identities. This bill erases the safe learning environment created by teachers, and even encourages high bullying rates for queer youth.
The idea of parental activism has helped get this bill passed in Florida, which is coincidentally Moms for Liberty’s starting place. Following suit, both Alabama and Ohio are gearing up to create their own versions of the “Don’t Say Gay” bill.
The same parental activism tactics worked for the tensions surrounding Critical Race Theory. Critical Race Theory teaches that "racism has been a systemic issue rather than a simple individual one." Texas passed a law that stated a “teacher may not be compelled to discuss a widely debated and currently controversial issue of public policy or social affairs.” Teachers have attacked the vagueness of this law in which the term “controversial issue” has not been defined. Texas Governor Greg Abott, while signing the bill, said that more needed to be done to “abolish” Critical Race theory from classrooms.
Though parents swarming school board meetings and yelling about CRT on Facebook seem like cooky weirdos, they now have high political power. Republican politicians are using their unbiased fears of indoctrination to pass restrictive laws. The push for censorship affects children in negative ways. Banning books and discussions ostracizes children who already have marginalized identities. School should be a safe space for everyone, not just for a select few.