Midterm Elections: How Politics Infiltrates Public School Systems

School board meetings have gotten livelier in recent years — from discussions about how to address gender identity to an increase in outright banning of certain books in some school districts.

A recent poll conducted by FiveThirtyEight found that 48% of likely midterm voters somewhat or strongly agree that high schools try to teach liberal propaganda.

Additionally, politically charged phrases like “Black Lives Matter,” “ANTIFA,” and “critical race theory” may elicit reactions from some parents and educators.

“These are beautiful words, fancy words, but really under a hidden agenda,” Trisha Chen, a parent from Forsyth County, who is in metro Atlanta, said at a school board meeting. in May 2021. “…The same gamebook has been played in communist society – divide and conquer, make the population hate each other.”

Sarasota School Board District 1 candidate Dawnyelle Singleton speaks with ABC News.

ABC News

At a July 2021 school board meeting for the Carmel Clay School District in Indiana, where the allocation of books with explicit content was discussed, a parent, wearing a t-shirt emblazoned with the words “Education NOT indoctrination,” passionately told educators that they had failed their students and “must be held accountable.”

“You have lost sight of your responsibilities to educate our children,” said the mother, who demanded transparency in school curricula. “Parents learn, watch and act.”

Concerns about the infiltration of politics into the classroom are now being addressed by candidates campaigning for school board seats.

Dawnyelle Singleton resigned from her full-time job in June to focus on campaigning for a seat on board Sarasota County Schools, she told ABC News. If elected, Singleton would become the first black person to serve on the county school board, she said.

Singleton, a Sarasota native with a career in education, said misinformation in public schools “continues to spread.”

According to Singleton, two of the most controversial issues were mask mandates at the height of the pandemic, as well as critical race theory. She said there were “a lot of great feelings on both sides” among the parents.

“Public schools are under attack,” she said. “Our teachers and administrators are being undermined left and right, and our democracy is at stake.”

PHOTO: Sarasota School Board District 1 candidate Bridget Ziegler speaks with ABC News.

Sarasota School Board District 1 candidate Bridget Ziegler speaks to ABC News.

ABC News

While school boards generally try to operate in a nonpartisan way, they are quickly becoming more political, Singleton said.

“We’ve definitely seen that in the local landscape,” she said. “And over the last couple of years it’s been very politicized, and it shouldn’t be.”

“Politics has no place in the school board,” she added.

Bridget Ziegler, who is running for re-election to the Sarasota County School Board, told ABC News that school board meetings have “changed drastically” in recent years and often include dynamics that are not conducive to productivity.

“Civil speech is a good thing if done civilly,” Ziegler said. “But so often it ends in that unproductive moment on the board.”

Ziegler said that going forward, it will be “tremendously important” to have diversity among school board members.

“Part of the division we see is that there is a constant feeling that parents express: not every parent is heard, recognized and taken with validity,” she said.

PHOTO: Members and supporters of the LGBTQ community attend the

Members and supporters of the LGBTQ community attend the “Say Gay Anyway” rally in Miami Beach, Florida on March 13, 2022.

Chandan Khanna/AFP via Getty Images

Emerging legislation like Florida’s Parental Rights in Education Bill – also informally referred to by some as the “Don’t Say Gay” Bill – could widen the divide by limiting what can be taught to children. school, especially on issues of race and gender. . According to FutureEd, a Georgetown University think tank, 26 other states have pre-filled or introduced similar bills.

Results from the FiveThirtyEight poll, released on Monday, show that 59% of respondents say students should learn about systemic racism, and a further 51% said they should learn about critical race theory.

Less than half of respondents said students should learn about different gender identities beyond men and women.

As the political landscape surrounding school boards heats up, so do the campaigns. Both Singleton and Ziegler have reached more than $140,000 in donations each as they compete for election.

The importance of these elections is all the more evident as school boards struggle to fill teaching positions. Sarasota County had 81 job openings before the start of the school year.

A survey of Sarasota County teachers over the summer highlighted just how low morale is – with 80% of respondents saying recent legislation has had a negative impact on student performance, and 77 % saying they think the parents’ rights movement has led to negative development for teachers.

PHOTO: People hold up signs during a rally against

People hold up signs during a rally against “Critical Race Theory” (CRT) taught in schools at the Loudoun County Government Center in Leesburg, Virginia on June 12, 2021.

Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP via Getty Images

Many also believe that teachers embed indoctrination in schools, Singleton said.

“Teachers barely have time to teach what they’re supposed to teach, let alone sneak into anything else,” she said.

Speech can distract from school board priorities. According to the district, “satisfactory” third-grade reading levels in Sarasota County have shown a downward trend.

Educators and those who shape the curriculum should focus on students and their education, Ziegler and Singleton said.

“A child’s only job is to go to school and get good grades, and parents shouldn’t have to worry about the schooling and education their child is getting,” said Singleton. “And I would love for us to come back to that.”

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