‘Too hyperbolic’? School board parental rights push falters

Nov 13, 2022, 5:15 PM | Updated: Nov 14, 2022, 7:21 am
FILE - Protesters gather outside the Moms for Liberty National Summit, July 15, 2022, in Tampa, Fla...

FILE - Protesters gather outside the Moms for Liberty National Summit, July 15, 2022, in Tampa, Fla. Republican groups that sought to get hundreds of “parents’ rights” activists elected to local school boards largely fell short in Tuesday’s elections. The push has been boosted by Republican groups including the 1776 Project PAC, but just a third of its roughly 50 candidates won. (Lauren Witte/Tampa Bay Times via AP, file)

(Lauren Witte/Tampa Bay Times via AP, file)

              Kids holding signs against Critical Race Theory stand on stage near Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis as he addresses the crowd before publicly signing HB7 at Mater Academy Charter Middle/High School in Hialeah Gardens, Fla., on April 22, 2022. Republican groups that sought to get hundreds of “parents’ rights” activists elected to local school boards largely fell short in Tuesday’s elections. The push has been boosted by Republican groups including the 1776 Project PAC, but just a third of its roughly 50 candidates won. (Daniel A. Varela/Miami Herald via AP, file)
              FILE - Protesters gather outside the Moms for Liberty National Summit, July 15, 2022, in Tampa, Fla. Republican groups that sought to get hundreds of “parents’ rights” activists elected to local school boards largely fell short in Tuesday’s elections. The push has been boosted by Republican groups including the 1776 Project PAC, but just a third of its roughly 50 candidates won. (Lauren Witte/Tampa Bay Times via AP, file)

WASHINGTON (AP) — Conservative groups that sought to get hundreds of “parents’ rights” activists elected to local school boards largely fell short in last week’s midterm elections, notching notable wins in some Republican strongholds but failing to gain a groundswell of support among moderate voters.

Traditionally nonpartisan, local school boards have become fiercely political amid entrenched battles over the teaching of race, history and sexuality. Candidates opposing what they see as “woke” ideology in public schools have sought to gain control of school boards across the U.S. and overturn policies deemed too liberal.

The push has been boosted by Republican groups including the 1776 Project PAC, which steered millions of dollars into local school races this year amid predictions of a red wave. But on Tuesday, just a third of its roughly 50 candidates won.

Moms for Liberty, another conservative political group, endorsed more than 250 candidates, with about half winning so far. And despite resounding victories for Republicans including Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, several gubernatorial candidates who leaned heavily on parents’ rights fell short, including in Michigan, Wisconsin, Kansas and Maine.

The results raise doubts about the movement’s widespread political strength and pose a potential obstacle for Republican lawmakers hoping to rally behind proposed legislation on the issue. With the GOP poised to take a narrow majority in the U.S. House, Leader Kevin McCarthy has already issued plans for a “Parents Bill of Rights,” though its details are vague.

Teachers unions and liberal grassroots groups also have been pushing back with money and messaging of their own, casting conservative activists as fearmongers intent on turning parents against public schools.

The parents’ rights movement demands transparency around teaching but also includes a wide range of cultural stances, calling for schools to remove certain books dealing with race or sexuality, for example, and an end to history lessons that aren’t “patriotic.”

In hindsight, activists this election should have had a stronger emphasis on academic issues, said Ryan Girdusky, founder of the 1776 Project PAC.

“The messaging needs to be more positive,” he said. “Sometimes you lose moderate voters because you’re too hyperbolic and you’re not speaking truth to something very local to them.”

The midterms marked a reversal from previous elections that saw parents’ rights proponents land major victories. Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin, a Republican, hammered the importance of parents’ rights in his successful campaign last year, winning crucial support from suburban voters — one year after the state voted for Democratic President Joe Biden.

Before Tuesday, the 1776 PAC had won roughly 75% of its races in the two previous years, putting dozens of school boards across the nation in control of conservative candidates.

Those victories have been attributed largely to parents’ anger over schools’ handling of the pandemic, including long closures and mask mandates. This year, the message pivoted to the cultural divides that have sparked battles around transgender rights, racism and sexuality.

In New Buffalo, Michigan, in the state’s purple southwest corner, four candidates supported by the 1776 PAC took on four candidates favored by a teachers union. The conservatives took out full-page ads in two local newspapers accusing their opponents of supporting a school program that promotes critical race theory, sexually inappropriate material and “anti-parent content.”

“NO Critical Race Theory,” the ad read. “NO biological boys in girls sports.”

Later, local residents began to raise worries about “furries” — a baseless myth spread by some conservatives alleging that students at some U.S. schools have been allowed to use litter boxes and given other special treatment if they identify as animals.

The level of misinformation was startling to Denise Churchill, one of the candidates endorsed by the teachers union. But on Tuesday, she and her three running mates won by wide margins, with the city also voting for Democrats at the state level.

“Truth prevails, and hate loses,” said Churchill, who has two children in the district. She said the district has always invited parent involvement. “But parental rights does not mean that you get to cherrypick what’s taught in the schools.”

The county that houses New Buffalo was a prized target for the 1776 group, having voted for Republican candidates for president and governor in recent elections. The group campaigned for 20 candidates across eight districts, but just four were elected. Many were defeated by union-backed candidates.

The group also fell short in its attempt to win majorities on boards in conservative Bentonville, Arkansas, and purple Round Rock, Texas. Its biggest victory was in right-leaning Carroll County, Maryland, where its candidates won three seats. All four of its candidates won in Florida, which has become a stronghold for the movement.

Despite the losses, some conservatives saw hopeful signs in DeSantis and Abbott’s high-profile victories. And even picking up scattered school board seats across the country should be viewed as progress for a Republican Party that has long neglected education as a priority, said Rory Cooper, a GOP strategist and former congressional staffer.

“We’re not seeing Democratic opponents go unopposed like they used to,” he said. “I’m counting this year as a victory.”

Democrats see the losses as proof that rhetoric around critical race theory and gender issues may play well in Republican primaries, but it has limited appeal for moderate Americans.

“In general elections, voters don’t want to hear about it,” said Stephanie Cutter, a Democratic strategist and former senior adviser to President Barack Obama. “The overwhelming majority of parents support their kids’ teachers, believe in their public schools and want accurate history being taught in their classrooms.”

As conservative groups increasingly inject themselves into local school board races, Democrats have responded in kind. State teachers unions have increased spending on their candidates, and grassroots groups including Red Wine and Blue have rallied liberal suburban parents.

But in many areas, school board members facing conservative challengers have aimed to distance themselves from any political affiliation.

In Coloma, Michigan, a town near New Buffalo, four incumbents opted not to accept outside money as they ran against three challengers supported by the 1776 PAC. All four incumbents won.

“We did not speak about them. We spoke about us,” said Heidi Ishmael, president of the school board. “I am a firm believer the school board is nonpartisan. We are there to listen to and represent our entire community.”

Democratic strategists have held up that approach — de-escalating the role of politics in education — as a winning tactic. Candidates who draw attention to any perceived bias run the risk of looking like they’re the ones looking for political fights, said Guy Molyneux of Hart Research, a Democratic polling firm.

“I don’t think people want either the left or the right to triumph here,” Molyneux said. “They really want politics out of their schools.”


The Associated Press education team receives support from the Carnegie Corporation of New York. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


FILE -- An employee in protective clothing takes a sample from the furnace at the steel producer, S...
Associated Press

German inflation dips slightly in November to 10%

BERLIN (AP) — German inflation slipped back slightly to 10% in November, official figures showed Tuesday, but galloping prices remain a major headache for Europe’s biggest economy. The annual inflation rate was off its peak of 10.4%, reached in October, as the increase in energy prices over a year ago slowed to 38.4% from 43% […]
1 day ago
German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier speaks, during a joint news conference with North Macedoni...
Associated Press

German president presses N Macedonia on EU-required reforms

SKOPJE, North Macedonia (AP) — German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier has urged North Macedonia to acknowledge the presence of an ethnic Bulgarian minority in the country, amid other actions required to speed up its European Union accession process. Steinmeier arrived in the the capital, Skopje, Tuesday on a two-day official visit, and will then proceed to […]
1 day ago
Eli Chitrik from Turkey shows bagel sandwiches at his hotel room in Doha, Qatar, Monday, Nov. 28, 2...
Associated Press

Bagels and challah for Jews keeping kosher at World Cup

DOHA, Qatar (AP) — Rabbi Eli Chitrik’s phone buzzes. A woman is about to show up at his Doha hotel to pick up her lunch: two bagel sandwiches. It’s one of many calls Chitrik is receiving these days for bagel sandwiches, freshly made in a designated kosher kitchen set up for Jewish World Cup fans […]
1 day ago
In this photo released by Xinhua News Agency, from left, Chinese astronauts for the upcoming Shenzh...
Associated Press

China launches 3 astronauts to complete space station

BEIJING (AP) — China launched a rocket Tuesday carrying three astronauts to complete construction of the country’s permanent orbiting space station. The crew of the Shenzhou-15 will overlap for several days with the 3-member crew already onboard the Tiangong station, who will then return to Earth after their six-month mission. Their spaceship blasted off atop […]
1 day ago
FILE - Signs advertise deals and low prices at a Walmart in Secaucus, N.J., Tuesday, Nov. 22, 2022....
Associated Press

US consumer confidence falls in November for 2nd month

U.S. consumer confidence fell for the second straight month in November amid ongoing high inflation, rising interest rates, and layoffs in the tech sector. The Conference Board reported Tuesday that its consumer confidence index fell to 100.2 this month, down from 102.2 in October. The business research group’s present situation index — which measures consumers’ […]
1 day ago
Associated Press

Oxford school shooting trial delayed by appeal by parents

DETROIT (AP) — The Michigan Supreme Court on Tuesday postponed the January trial for the parents of the teenager who killed four students at his high school, a victory for defense lawyers who argue that involuntary manslaughter charges don’t fit. The court ordered the state appeals court to hear an appeal from James and Jennifer […]
1 day ago

Sponsored Articles


Medicare open enrollment is here and SHIBA can help!

The SHIBA program – part of the Office of the Insurance Commissioner – is ready to help with your Medicare open enrollment decisions.
Lake Washington Windows...

Choosing Best Windows for Your Home

Lake Washington Windows and Doors is a local window dealer offering the exclusive Leak Armor installation.
Anacortes Christmas Tree...

Come one, come all! Food, Drink, and Coastal Christmas – Anacortes has it all!

Come celebrate Anacortes’ 11th annual Bier on the Pier! Bier on the Pier takes place on October 7th and 8th and features local ciders, food trucks and live music - not to mention the beautiful views of the Guemes Channel and backdrop of downtown Anacortes.
Swedish Cyberknife Treatment...

The revolutionary treatment of Swedish CyberKnife provides better quality of life for majority of patients

There are a wide variety of treatments options available for men with prostate cancer. One of the most technologically advanced treatment options in the Pacific Northwest is Stereotactic Body Radiation Therapy using the CyberKnife platform at Swedish Medical Center.
Work at Zum Services...

Seattle Public Schools announces three-year contract with Zum

Seattle Public Schools just announced a three-year contract with a brand-new company to the Pacific Northwest to assist with their student transportation: Zum.
Swedish Cyberknife 900x506...

June is Men’s Health Month: Here’s Why It’s Important To Speak About Your Health

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, men in the United States, on average, die five years earlier than women.
‘Too hyperbolic’? School board parental rights push falters