An army of angry parents is charging into the political fray by running for local office. First stop, school board.

stephen harlan q 89orehayk unsplash

In a representative democracy, citizens have a number of avenues through which they can hold their elected officials accountable.

First, of course, is voting. The power of the vote is paramount. For anyone elected to public office, accountability to voters is of the utmost importance. What happens to the job performance of a politician, say, if they aren’t answerable to voters?

Nothing good. See, Xi Jinping. See, Nicolaus Maduro. See, Fidel Castro. See, Kim Jong Un, and his father before him. There is a reason democracy has become increasingly popular- communism, less so.

Voting is easy- even in places with restrictions about showing photo ID. It takes a short amount of time, a couple of hours on average, and most registered voters can vote absentee if they request a ballot to do so.

Voting can also be done with cold hard cash- in the form of campaign donations to politicians who support the causes you care about, or at least, promise to. It isn’t only the wealthy and large corporations who donate to political campaigns; Sen. Bernie Sanders, and, believe it or not, former-President Donald Trump are two of the most successful campaigners for small-dollar donations in history.

If voting and donating fails, the next mechanism ordinary citizens have to hold elected leaders accountable is to organize, usually within a political party, faith-based organization or a political action committee.

The “Right to Life” lobby is a good example, but there are lots of others. Anti-abortion activists are organized and they are committed. They volunteer, knock doors, and walk in parades for candidates who support their cause. They distribute voting guides at their places of worship. They drive seniors and people who are disabled to the polls on Election Day, even in the mid-terms.

Right to Lifers have been effective, too. While progressives have managed to move the Overton Window on most social issues, like gay marriage for instance, views on abortion have stayed stubbornly put.

While donating and voting is very easy- yes, even for people in rural areas- community organizing is significantly harder. There is serious work involved- volunteering, networking, fundraising, awareness campaigns, community outreach efforts. It’s a major commitment.

After voting, political donations, and community organizing, there is the next level to holding politicians accountable once they are elected to office: Running against them.

Running for office is not easy. Holding an office isn’t easy, either. Getting re-elected is certainly no walk in the park. But running for office as a first-time candidate is extremely hard.

But extremely hard or not, school boards across the country are about to get an influx of new leadership. An army of angry parents is amassing from coast to coast. They are descending upon unsuspecting school boards like a swarm of disturbed hornets. And they are running for election.

They are calling their in-laws, their sorority sisters, their neighbors, pastors, rabbis, and priests. If you haven’t gotten a campaign fundraising email from one of them yet, just wait. These freshmen candidates are hyper-focused on a single, highly-charged issue. And across the country, they aren’t backing down. Instead, they are stepping up.

That so many parents are running for school board tells us one thing.

They must be absolutely furious.

Let’s assume parents are just as time-crunched, harried, busy, exhausted and stressed out as they have ever been. Corporations, and advertisers- who are enjoying a sudden if undeserved halo of respectability after a few well-chosen commercials- know well the perpetually-tired state of the parents of school-age children.

Tired, sleep-deprived parents- especially new parents- will buy almost anything to appease their kids for five minutes.

So let’s also assume, as we can safely, that this past year- whether parents were working at home or not, whether children were attending school in person or not- sent the stress level of most parents skyrocketing further into the stratosphere.

That they are now taking time out of their already over-burdened schedules, putting more strain on family relationships which are already likely strained, to do something difficult that is going to take so much time and energy, says a great deal

These parents are working the phones, sending those emails, drumming up support from like-minded parents who are similarly fed up with what school boards and teachers unions have seen fit to grant their offspring over the previous “school year.”

Not all parents feel that way, of course. Many parents, in various school districts, have been highly supportive of all measures to keep the public safe from COVID-19. Most of these parents, however, in addition to being of the progressives persuasion for the most part, have also, by and large, been those with the time and resources to basically homeschool their children for over a year.

Not everyone has been so fortunate.

Many parents who themselves had to keep working during the worst of the crisis, in industries deemed “essential”, whatever their past voting patterns, felt understandably bitter towards teachers who weren’t, for some reason, considered essential enough to continue in-person learning.

The disconnect is perhaps understandable: Uber Eats drivers, essential. Math teachers, not essential.

That the sudden and complete shift to a mostly online learning model was not a resounding success hasn’t helped matters. Some kids fared better than others- but again, they mostly hail from families with resources sufficient to support the sea change.

That the closures of schools and in-person learning hurt the very kids progressives profess to want to help most- minority kids, kids from poor neighborhoods, those with unstable family situations- isn’t exactly helping the medicine go down easier.

Especially with rumblings about more lock-downs and the specter of another round of widespread school closures looming in the coming weeks.

Teacher’s unions are demanding all K-12 students be masked all day in classrooms this fall, in any case. The same powerful teacher’s unions pressured the CDC to issue such a diktat, which the CDC has now done.

The teacher’s unions are also, and this isn’t something likely to sit well with already angry parents, so far refusing to require teachers to get the vaccine.

If teachers were vaccinated, many parents- Democrats and Republicans- are wondering, couldn’t children have a near-normal school year this fall? Though vaccination doesn’t completely protect from COVID-19 infection, the rate of hospitalization and death for vaccinated individuals appears to be very small.

School closings, some of which coincided with badly-timed social justice efforts to rename public schools, coupled with the continued insistence on masking, aren’t the only things driving angry parents to school board elections en masse.

Critical Race Theory.

Some on the left say CRT is nothing but the latest boogeyman concocted by right-wing media outlets. Some on the left say it’s gospel. It is almost universally panned on the right. Some Republicans, in increasing numbers, do in fact support any number of what progressives consider social justice initiatives- consider Sen. Tim Scott’s recent criminal justice reform bill.

Most Republicans agree wholeheartedly, however; CRT isn’t it.

As far as teacher’s unions, public schools and CRT, to say that messaging has been somewhat mixed is putting it mildly. Randi Weingarten, Teacher’s Union President, has alternately denied public school teachers are teaching CRT and dared elected officials to stop them.

Efforts to teach CRT under the auspices of calling it something else, or attempting to hide it entirely, haven’t gone unnoticed by parents. Because of so much at-home learning last year, parents are aware of school curriculums in a way they haven’t been before. Lessons haven’t been happening in a classroom across town, but across the hall where parents working from home could hear every word.

To an increasing number of parents, from extremely diverse backgrounds, the ham-handed efforts of public school teachers to introduce anti-racist education has looked incredibly racist and included language some have found extremely offensive, divisive and even dangerous.

Nor does introducing such an untested curriculum have a clear mandate from the public; polls, which almost all skew left, consistently find the types of tenets espoused by CRT are not supported by a majority of voters- even Democrats.

What the result of these local races will be, it is too early to tell. What we can know this early, however, is that scores of dedicated parents are coming for their local school board leaders at the ballot box.

And it’s much too late to katy bar the door.

(contributing writer, Brooke Bell)