Ever since school board elections moved to the fall in the Christie years, they have been very much a forgotten part of government.
But now, they’re becoming the latest political battlefield in the culture wars.
Morris County Republicans are publicly looking for people to seek school board seats prior to the July 26 filing deadline for the fall election.
And not just any candidates.
The Morris GOP wants candidates who are prepared to challenge the “influence of extreme liberal, ‘woke’ activists who are attempting to radically alter school curriculums without the consent of parents.”
Locally, the impetus for all this started with the Randolph school board’s clumsy and misguided attempt to change the name of Columbus Day on the school calendar to Indigenous People’s Day.
This prompted a political firestorm and the board eventually backed down, but not before being confronted by an angry, and often hostile, crowd at a meeting last month.
But that’s not all.
For years on the national level, conservatives have asserted that public schools teach a liberal agenda, or to use the popular term, seek to “indoctrinate” students.
To the right, the latest evidence of this is Critical Race Theory, which opponents say assumes all white people are racist.
What it officially does is teach how race and racism has affected the history of the United States. It’s hard to objectively deny that slavery, legalized segregation throughout the south, not to mention early 20th Century discrimination against Irish, Italians and Jews (among others) had no impact on the development of the nation.
But logic and politics do not always mesh.
Critical race theory, like the removal of Columbus Day, is seen by some as an attack on American tradition and culture.
Hence, the need for candidates to set things right.
Just as an aside, one wonders how familiar some education critics are with how school districts work. In many respects, school board members themselves have little, or no, direct control over day-to-day operations. One or two board members are not going to implement, or not implement, a curriculum.
But that’s an issue for later.
An issue for the present is that school boards are non-partisan. Candidates run without party labels.
This is not to suggest that politics is not present. Many groups endorse candidates, at least unofficially.
Still, the bluntness of the message from the Morris Republicans may strike some as a bit over the top.
A separate appeal from the Morris Young Republicans actually points out that the elections are non-partisan, but adds in the same breath, “We will support you every step (of) the way.” You have to love the chutzpah.
This raises a question.
May we see an emerging trend, not only in Morris, but across the state, where both parties begin to openly endorse school board candidates? And would that be good?
The Morris GOP isn’t shy about its desires.
County Chair Laura Ali put it this way:
“The executive leaders of teachers unions have millions of dollars at their disposal, raised on the backs of taxpayers, to elect liberal Democrats who will push the anti-American ‘woke’ agenda. We think it’s time to use our resources to fight back,” she said. “The goal of education is to give our children the skills they will need in the job market. We want our children to be able to solve problems and think critically – not to be ashamed of America and ignore its many accomplishments.”
On a larger scale, Jack Ciattarelli, the Republican gubernatorial candidate, also has waded into school board affairs – sort of at least.
He was recorded last month saying that if he’s elected, “We’re not teaching sodomy in sixth grade. And we’re going to roll back the LGBTQ curriculum. It goes too far.”
Ciattarelli may regret those comments – especially the 1950’s-era mentioning of sodomy.
But that’s more evidence of the culture wars running through the local schoolyard.