Purple for Parents becoming school board force in EV - SanTan Sun News SanTan Sun News

Purple for Parents becoming school board force in EV

December 4th, 2022 SanTan Sun News
Purple for Parents becoming school board force in EV

By Ken Sain
Managing Editor

Parental rights advocates in Arizona are celebrating huge gains, both in the Legislature and at the ballot box.

Purple for Parents, a parental rights organization, endorsed 38 candidates in November’s school board elections across Arizona and unofficial results show that 20 of them won seats – including two in Scottsdale, one each in Gilbert’s two main districts, one in Chandler and one in Mesa.

“We’re very happy,” said Michelle Dillard, the president of Purple for Parents. “It’s great to have school board members elected that support parents’ rights and will promote academics in the classroom.”

The electoral victories follow success last spring, when the state Legislature passed and Gov. Doug Ducey signed the Parental Rights Bill. It further enhances the Parental Bill of Rights passed in 2010.

The newer legislation gives parents the rights to all written and electronic records from a school about their child. That includes any counseling records, even notes taken during a conversation. Parents can sue school districts if a teacher does not comply.

“I think that enforcement is going to be something that all parents are going to have to be keeping an eye out, we’re going to have to be very diligent and making sure that they actually follow the laws,” Dillard said.

She pointed to a school board meeting she watched where the board members changed the policy to comply with state law, but said repeatedly they were not happy to do so.

That was the case in Kyrene School District, where Governing Board members in September lashed out at laws preventing any mandate requiring kids to get COVID or HPV shots, requiring greater parental access and longer review policies for new library books, giving parents the right to get a list of all library books checked out by their children.

But the Kyrene board members’ harshest criticism involved a ban on boys joining girls-only sports teams.

They initially planned to just amend the district’s policy on sports to say Kyrene conformed with Arizona law, until a board member prevailed on her colleagues to include the specific citation for the statute so that parents could find it more readily.

Critics of the parental rights law say it will have a chilling impact on students.

For example, critics contend, a gay teen who knows his family will not accept his or her sexual orientation will not be able to reach out to a trusted adult at school to talk about what they are going through because they risk their parents finding out and possibly kicked out of their home or forced to go to conversion therapy.

There were similar concerns about students who are struggling with their gender identity.

Dillard said that is part of the problem: There’s too much sex in schools.

“We don’t want the sexualization of our children to be continuing on this, I mean, it’s accelerated this upward trend,” she said. “The left, who has had control of our schools, wants comprehensive sex education. And I think they call it like age appropriate or whatever. Well, we have a disagreement with that.”

Purple for Parents started in 2018 as a reaction to the Red for Ed movement, in which teachers were demanding higher salaries and more funding for school districts.

Forest Moriarty, a Mesa husband to a teacher and father to two special needs students, is credited as the founder. He did not return a message seeking an interview.

Dillard said Purple for Parents has no ties to Patriot Movement AZ, which has been identified as a far-right hate group and was ordered by a federal judge in 2019 to stop harassing churches across the Valley, including Chandler, that were offering clothing and food to newly bussed migrants awaiting transportation to other parts of the country.

Dillard said it is true that some of the founding members were also members of PMAZ, but rejected they were tied together.

“There were members of Purple for Parents that were in PMAZ,” Dillard said. “I mean, they’re parents too. They have children in schools. And so you know, they were in the group, but they had no influence, nor did they found it. That’s been a blatant lie that local media has pushed from the beginning.”

Purple for Parents really picked up momentum in 2019 after Fox News’ Tucker Carlson highlighted the Chandler Unified School District’s attempt to improve its diversity training. Carlson criticized the Deep Equity program from the Corwin Company as indoctrination.

Angry parents began showing up at school board meetings in the Chandler and Kyrene school districts.

Stephanie Ingersoll, the executive director of marketing and communications for CUSD, said the district no longer uses the Deep Equity program. Instead, the district developed an Equity Advisory Board which is made up of staff, students, parents and community members.

Purple for Parents advocates for school choice and parental rights, and wants to keep Critical Race Theory (CRT) out of schools. That theory is a law school class that is not taught at K-12 schools in Arizona.

However, Dillard said it is used as a catchphrase for programs like Corwin’s Deep Equity because it’s a phrase people know, having heard it from former President Trump.

She said issues like that made it easy to find candidates willing to run in the 2022 election.

“I witnessed parents trying to stand up for their parental rights in education to be later ridiculed for doing so,” Heather Rooks wrote in an email about why she ran. She was elected to the Peoria Unified School District Governing Board.

“I heard from so many parents that their child was struggling and falling behind. I had heard from teachers who were afraid to speak up against the CRT ideology in the district,” Rooks said.

Parental rights issues were not the only reason for running.

“[I decided to run after] having witnessed the steady decline in merit-based academics, with test scores tanking and teachers leaving the district in droves,” wrote newly elected Scottsdale Unified Governing Board member Carine Werner.

“Even the 8-year age gap between my oldest and youngest has revealed stark differences in how our children are educated,” Werner said. “I couldn’t sit on the sidelines any longer.”

Chad Thompson, newly-elected member of the Gilbert Unified School District Governing Board, wrote:

“As a father of multiple children that attend GPS schools, I was very concerned about the decisions made by our board over the last few years. As our race developed, I became even more concerned about where our schools are headed.”

He campaigned against social emotional learning and any sex education in schools and said at a candidates’ town hall:

“I think we’ve let way too much stuff come into our school that are distractions from education. Parents are awake; they are seeing this stuff especially after the pandemic. It seems like our schools today want to teach just about everything except for education, actual math, science and language.”

Thompson also said that students need to be taught accountability and responsibility.

Parental rights candidates won two seats in three different districts, Cave Creek, Dysart, and Scottsdale. Still, even with this success they will likely be in the minority when they are seated.

“It’s going to be frustrating for them to have to endure being in the minority,” Dillard said. “But I do think that in all of these districts, there’s a great group of parents … that will also be supportive.

“I think that they will have a voice on the board and so while they may not get certain items passed, or the votes aren’t going to land their way, at least they’ll have a voice and they can let the public and the community and the parents know that … it’s being voted on.”

Some candidates welcome the challenge of being in the minority on the board.

“School board members are non-partisan positions and parental rights are enshrined in state statute,” Anna Van Hock wrote. She won election in the Higley Unified School District. “Politics should be set aside, and the law followed by all elected officials, administration and staff.”

“If I am in the minority, I will work to bring transparency on what is discussed and voted upon and perhaps why I am not in support or support of a motion,” wrote new Queen Creek Unified board member James Knox. “Too often, items in QCUSD are put into the consent vote when they are not consenting items.”

Said Amy Carney, the other new Scottsdale Unified board member: “I plan to work alongside the other board members to strengthen our school communities by supporting our students and educators and ensuring that parents feel heard and welcomed on our campuses.”

Purple for Parents was strategic in how its endorsed candidates ran for school board seats. Dillard said the group did not endorse any more candidates than there were seats available, so they wouldn’t split the vote.

In Chandler, she said they had their own caucus since there were multiple parental-rights candidates who wanted to run. She said each agreed to not run if they didn’t get enough support at the caucus.

Kurt Rohrs and Charlotte Golla ended up with the most support, so others stood down. Rohrs ended up with the most votes in his election. Golla finished third and did not win.

Dillard said she would like to see school board races become partisan, so voters can determine their candidates in a primary election and give them a better shot at winning in the general.

She said parental-rights board members will want to put the focus back on academics when they take their seats.

“Especially coming off of the end of the pandemic,” she said. “There are kids suffering a lot of learning loss, and there are achievement gaps. And I do think that there could be different programs that the schools can have and focus on to help get our kids up to speed.”