Extremists Stumble to Invent School Board Controversies
Peoria Unified School District
White Christian nationalists at PUSD failed to whip up controversy over a routine request to send social workers to an out-of-state conference. Board Member Heather Rooks blasted on social media that she had problems with the conference — which teaches evidence-based ways to increase school mental health — because a handful of the 100+ courses offered at the conference had anti-racism components.
Dancing around the subject of race, Rooks and five members of the public regurgitated calculated talking points:
“These travel requests are a waste of taxpayer dollars.”
“Staff should go to more conferences about the fundamentals like math and reading.”
“We don’t know what staff members are actually learning at these conferences.”
Board Member Melissa Ewing and PUSD staffer Jason Nuttall efficiently debunked all these talking points by noting:
These travel requests are funded by grants. The grants require staff members to get the types of training offered at the conferences.
There were other travel requests to be approved that very night which would send staff to conferences about the fundamentals.
The district makes descriptions of all conference programming available to the public (which is how this issue came up in the first place).
Social workers will be happy to give more reports on what they learn at conferences because they are eager to share what they learn.
Florence USD voted 4-1 to allow its high school students to receive sex education, despite vocal opposition from those who opposed it on religious grounds. Students will be taught from secular and inclusive curricula that teach how to build healthy relationships, prevent dating violence, and improve impulse control.
Constituents can contact board members here to say thanks. (Jeff Carr was the only member to vote no.)
Casa Grande Unified High School District
An unknown religious group — possibly members of a local church — dominated public comments withdemands that school board meetings open with an official (Christian) prayer.Oddly, prayers at board meetings had not previously been a source controversy at this district. The board currently observes a moment of silence but does not have a prayer. It is possible that a Christian nationalist group may be pushing for prayers at school boards that don’t have them as part of a new political or legal strategy.
Note that religious conservatives hold this board 4-1. If they don't hear pro-secular voices in their district, they may actually indulge the people demanding a prayer.
Board Member Simacek called out VP Fisher for using scripture to disparage anyone who disagrees with her. Fisher had been posting Luke 17:2 on social media, which says “It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were thrown into the sea, rather than that he should cause one of these little ones to stumble.” You may recall this as the verse quoted by ousted Peoria Unified board member Rebecca Hill, which Hill and the district vulnerable to lawsuits earlier this spring. It is being increasingly used in the public sphere to disparage those who support the LGBTQ+ community.
The next meeting is September 26th. Board members can be contacted here.
Faith healing has deadly consequences
Most states have laws that allow parents to rely on “faith healing” for their children without being held liable or criminally prosecuted for medical neglect. As a result, parents who insist on supernatural remedies over a doctor's medical advice will not run into any legal trouble when that child dies a preventable death.
What damage is this causing and what can be done? Legal Fellow Adriana Clark has more:
Have you thought about running for your local school board? There are trainings coming up just for you, courtesy of Civic Engagement Beyond Voting! They’ll review what it means to run for office, what the role of a school board member is, and best practices for beginning your journey. There’s no pressure, just a chance to dip your toe in the water, ask questions, and seek information.
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Will there be a pushback against white Christian nationalists in the 2024 election? Our Executive Director visited Humanist Society of Greater Phoenix with her insights plus updates about 2023 legislative session and school boards where white Christian nationalists were elected.