The Universal Notebook: Parents destroying schools

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What business is it of a Virginia-based conservative group whether people of color who teach in Portland schools have a chance to meet once a month or so to discuss issues specific to people of color? Answer: none!

Still, national groups with racist and homophobic agendas are plaguing American schools from Maine to California with lawsuits and requests for information in an attempt to enable a bigoted minority to control school policy.

Parents Defending Education is suing the Portland School District because the BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People of Color) Community Council is allegedly not open to white staff. Parents Defending Education (by Attacking People, they might add) also filed suits against BIPOC groups in Vermont and Oregon, part of a rash of troublemaker parents harassing school officials over issues of racial and gender identity.

Edgar Allen BeemMeddling moms and disruptive dads have been busy in Maine and the nation raising big stinks over books and posters that educate students about LGBTQ issues and the phantom menace of Critical Race Theory. Here in Maine, most of the meddlers have been rebuffed by local school boards, yet they persist.

Maine has a history and tradition of local control of schools and school boards are the way we do that, not lawsuits and nuisance Freedom of Information requests. Gorham and Cumberland have both been particularly plagued by puritanical parents trying to force their moral views on everyone else’s children.

When parents assert their “Christian” values, their harassment of public officials and educators bears no relation to anything even vaguely Christian. Jesus was an immigrant. Jesus was inclusive. Jesus sided with the oppressed. And, in any event, it is unconstitutional to insist that your personal religious beliefs be enforced in your children’s school.

If parents object to what’s being taught in public schools, they can homeschool their kids or send them to religious schools. Thanks to a lawsuit brought by another Virginia-based conservative group last year on behalf of a handful of Maine parents, Maine residents can now even get tax dollars to send their kids to religious schools. So much for separation of church and state now that rightwing activist judges control the Supreme Court.

I spent six years on the Yarmouth School Committee in the 1990s and another three on the school facilities committee overseeing the $20 million construction and renovation of Yarmouth schools. There were certainly a handful of citizens who opposed school budgets, but there were no fundamentalist parents trying to run the schools to conform with their personal religious beliefs. This is a new and dangerous trend.

There is a right way and a wrong way for parents to be involved in their children’s schools. Volunteering, participating in booster organizations, attending Parent Teacher Organization and school board meetings and running for school boards are the right ways. Filing nuisance requests for information and lawsuits is the wrong way.

Far-right radicals, aided and abetted by Fox News and demagogues like Tucker Carlson, Sean Hannity and Donald Trump, are destroying American democracy. What they seek is a dictatorship of minority extremists. They have packed the courts with rightwing ideologues, turned Congress into a partisan joke and they are now working hard to undermine public education.

Edgar Allen Beem has been writing The Universal Notebook weekly since 2003, first for The Forecaster and now for the Phoenix. He also writes the Art Seen feature.

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