- The Washington Times
Saturday, February 26, 2022

ORLANDO, Fla. — Education sprung to the top of the agenda at the nation’s most influential gathering of conservatives.

The right suddenly has a new, broad appeal and political momentum after a wave of parent protests across America against the big-government attitudes of school boards and an increasingly liberal public school curriculum.

Last year at the Conservative Political Action Conference or CPAC, there was not a single panel that covered education issues. This year, CPAC’s panel discussions and speeches were dominated by talk of parents’ rights, school boards, teachers unions, COVID-19 mandates for schools and critical race theory. 

The common theme was “awake not woke.”

“You’ve seen American parents waking up and saying, ‘We have to protect our children. If we do not educate our children in these American values, teach them as to why the Founding Fathers did what they did back in the time to secure and make a great America, we lose it all,’” CPAC cohost and American Conservative Union fellow Mercedes Schlapp told The Washington Times. 

“I think the left has been so effective in really penetrating our school systems from kindergarten up, that they feel very emboldened to continue trying to brainwash these children.”

Fighting to fix public schools is new ground for conservatives who previously focused mostly on school choice programs that give parents a way out of the public school system. 

Now, conservatives see their ranks swelling with parents who are standing up to the teachers unions and public school systems.

The strength of that movement was glimpsed in the successful campaign this year of Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin, a Republican. He marshaled education issues to help flip the state red by defeating Democrat Terry McAuliffe. 

Moms for America President Kimberly Fletcher, a CPAC speaker this year, said the public-school curriculum issues always existed and it was only a matter of time for parents to notice it.

“I’ve known for 16 years what was going on behind closed doors in the classrooms, but moms didn’t. And I kept saying, ‘The moment that they figure out what’s really happening, there’s gonna be a national revolt, which is what’s happening, but I saw it because we have a pulse on the culture amongst America, because this is our homes and our families,” said Mrs. Fletcher. 

Mrs. Fletcher said she saw mothers showing up at school board meetings upset and angry over school closures, policies related to mask and vaccine mandates, critical race theory embedded into the school curriculum and required LGBT protocols.  

“So they’re showing up angry, upset, tears [in their eyes], and I’m like, ‘Oh, my gosh, we need to help them. We need them to understand what’s going on, and how to effectively communicate the messages that they want to protect their children.’ So I put together a proposal: the School Board Project 2019,” Mrs. Fletcher said. “I went around the country talking to multiple different donors saying, ‘This is what we’re doing this is why it’s important.’

She added, “Nobody had any interest in that whatsoever. Last June, I started to get phone calls from those same people going, ‘Okay, how can we help you?’”

Several panels at CPAC this year explored education issues. These included panels with titles such as “School Boards for Dummies,” “Domestic Terrorists Unite: Lessons From Virginia Parents,” “Silly Doctor! Sex Changes Aren’t for Kids,” “Woke Inc.,” “Fighting Woke Inc.,” and  “Awake Not Woke.”

Speakers discussed opposing bureaucratic school boards, challenging divisive school curriculum, questioning mask and vaccine mandates in schools and debating transgender inclusionary issues.

“Now it’s on the forefront. And they’re engaging,” Mrs. Fletcher said. “I’ve been telling moms, ‘Okay, if you can’t get your kids off the frontlines, while we’re fighting these battles for the schools, then at least empower them with the tools that they need to help them navigate through these difficult times.” 

She’s been instructing parents to tell their children to use their cell phones to record anything in school that makes them feel uncomfortable.

“These kids are now coming home to their moms and showing them videos of kids having masks literally taped to their mouths,” she said. “They’re having videos of these kids who are being put in basements of schools, because they won’t wear masks.”

At CPAC, often mentioned were the victories of parents standing up to the school board in Loudoun County, Virginia, and the successful recall election for three members of a school board in San Francisco, California, where the recall prevailed with 70% support. 

Hannah Smith, a Texas attorney who previously clerked for Supreme Court Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito, told the CPAC audience that in 2020 “the left came for our kids.”

In her hometown of South Lake, parents fought back against a 34-page plan to adopt microaggression tracking in schools and equity audits of the curriculum. Mrs. Smith and her friend Cameron Bryan also won seats on their school board in a landslide election in May by running against the left’s plans to transform the schools.

“The spirit of the American Revolution is alive and well. We don’t want the government telling us what to do with our kids, our families, or our schools,” Mrs. Smith said. “Take back your school boards, just like we did in South Lake, Texas.” 

• Kerry Picket can be reached at kpicket@washingtontimes.com.

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