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The National School Boards Association Fiasco: California Leans In

Celeste Fiehler

Deputy Director of Parent Union

Celeste Fiehler
November 12, 2021

The National School Boards Association Fiasco: California Leans In

State school boards across the nation have ended their memberships with the National School Boards Association after the organization likened concerned parents to “domestic terrorists.” But there’s been no similar response to the execrable California School Boards Association. They sent their own letter to Gov. Gavin Newsom, a missive remarkably similar to the national association’s letter to U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland.

In what many view as an effort to shut down California’s growing parent movement, CSBA executive director Vernon M. Billy declared, “What we are seeing goes far beyond the normal, legal expression of First Amendment rights…. We are increasingly witnessing active attempts to undermine the democratic process through intimidation, threats, and violence.”

Then appearing to play the social-justice card, Billy railed against local cops. “In numerous cases, law enforcement officers — in brazen defiance of the law and their professional oath — have explicitly stated they will not enforce safety mandates or restrain those whose actions willfully disrupt a meeting and prevent it from proceeding.

“It bears noting that law enforcement has not always exhibited this level of reticence when dealing with protestors who exercise their constitutional right to peaceably assemble and protest.”

In what’s being called “The Year of the Parent,” concerned families have been speaking out at school board meetings from California to Virginia, expressing their frustration with out-of-touch school board members who have dismissed parent concerns about school lockdowns, mask and vaccine mandates, and the introduction of divisive race-based curricula into K-12 schools.

Instead of listening to parents, NSBA’s late-September letter to the U.S. Department of Justice led, within days, to a memo from Garland directing the FBI to get involved in local law enforcement. Despite a high-profile Congressional hearing that revealed Garland worked closely with the NSBA to stage the elaborate political theater, and despite demands by Republicans that he rescind the FBI directive, Garland has refused.

The backlash from parents and concerned citizens nationwide was immediate. They recognized the one-two punch of NSBA’s letter and Garland’s directive for what they were: a coordinated strategy of political intimidation launched to quell the growing parent movement sweeping the nation.

On October 22, the NSBA responded to the uproar by withdrawing its letter and apologizing to its state school board members, but the damage was done.

According to The Center Square, 26 states have distanced themselves from NSBA’s letter, including 11 that “have taken action by withdrawing their membership, participation, or dues from NSBA: Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, Kentucky, Missouri, Montana, New Hampshire, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina and Wisconsin.”

The California School Boards Association refused to answer The Center Square’s questions about the NSBA letter and it’s not hard to understand why. The California affiliate sent a copycat letter to Gov. Newsom the same week as the NSBA letter, asking him “to collaborate with California Attorney General Rob Bonta to convince, command, or otherwise urge local law enforcement” to “help maintain order at local school board meetings.”

The CSBA letter has flown mostly under the radar. But make no mistake, the organization is following the same political playbook as the national association, designed to intimidate and silence parents, and derail the grassroots parent movement taking place from San Diego to San Francisco.

But the pushback from California parents isn’t going away anytime soon. Perhaps no other incident captures the tension between parents and school boards more clearly than a recent meeting of the Los Alamitos Unified School District Board of Education that made national headlines. When parent Lauren Roupoli told board members, “We are vocal because we are our children’s biggest advocates,” the audience reacted with applause. Board president Marlys Davidson responded in a decidedly different way: she was picked up on a hot mic saying “F— you,” and it aired on the school board’s livestream. Outraged parents are calling for Davidson to be recalled.

In fact, 2021 could get double billing as “The Year of the Recall,” and California is leading the charge. Twenty-five of the record 84 school board recall efforts that Ballotpedia is tracking this year are in California, making the Golden State the national leader by far. Many of the recalls, according to EdSource, are “targeting two to four board members.”

The recall effort in San Francisco has captured national attention. There, three school board members face a February recall. As a San Francisco Examiner editorial explains, school board members “dithered as parent frustration boiled over due to SFUSD’s lack of a plan to get students back into school…. Instead…they engaged in cringeworthy performative activism infamously wasting time…on a shambolic and ill-informed effort to strip the names of leaders like Abraham Lincoln and Dianne Feinstein from our (empty) local schools.”

San Francisco parents have had enough: 3,500 students left the district over the last two years. On Tuesday, even San Francisco Mayor London Breed came out in favor of the recalls and said she supports “the parents’ call for change.”

If notoriously liberal San Francisco is a bellwether, the California School Boards Association should take note. It’s clear the parent revolution has only just begun.

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Celeste Fiehler is the Deputy Director of the Parent Union

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