This is Part II of an ongoing series looking at right-wing extremists who won their primary races for positions on school boards across North Carolina.
Despite much of the talk in North Carolina this election cycle likely focusing on the U.S. Senate race between Democrat Cheri Beasley and right-wing extremist Rep. Ted Budd, the most important races might actually be happening on the hyperlocal level – your county’s school board.
Calling them “highly contested” and “fueled by parents” and conservatives, a recent CNN article looked at school board races in North Carolina, highlighting those in Forsyth, Johnston, Durham, New Hanover and Wake counties.
Board races across the state are being looked at as referendums on the decisions districts made regarding remote learning and masking during the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as how districts are handling discussions in their schools around topics such as sex, race, history and gender identity.
A number of candidates running in the counties highlighted by CNN cited Critical Race Theory, learning loss due to remote classes during the pandemic and “parental rights” as their reasons for running, so it’s not surprising that primaries for school board seats across the state featured multiple candidates whose views can best be described as “extreme” and “alarming.”
This week we’re looking at Johnston County:
Some candidates running for school board seats were so extreme that they were open members of hate groups. John Fischer, a self-identified Proud Boy, ran for a place on the board in Johnston County. Twelve other candidates were also vying to fill three open seats there. Fischer finished in last place, 9,479 votes behind the top vote-getter.
Although it’s a good thing that Fischer won’t be on the school board there, three other candidates with concerning views regarding public education did make it through the primary and will be on the ballot in November.
Michelle Antoine, Melissa Bowers and Kevin Donovan hold controversial views on multiple topics.
For example, Antoine’s campaign website says that she wants to “shift from equity to opportunity” in schools and she has previously posted on her various social media channels about her hatred for CRT. She has claimed that schools in the county are not teaching CRT but are instead acting it out in the classrooms and has said that the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction is “using our schools as a tool for the Chinese government.”
Antoine has also favorited multiple homophobic/transphobic tweets, including tweets that compared being LGBTQ+ with having autism, as well as ones that implied being transgender or queer is similar to having a severe mental illness.
While Antoine has made her views and opinions very clear across all her social media accounts, she has been playing the part of a wolf in sheep’s clothing and has not presented herself in front of voters as a frantic, hateful conspiracy theorist as she does on social media.
As for Bowers, she has attended the “Mama Bear Workshop” hosted by the NC Values Coalition and seems to hold typical Republican views on school issues. She does not support mask mandates or remote learning and has said that schools should be teaching children how to think and not indoctrinating them.
Bowers has also blamed cellphones, social media and parents for behavioral and mental health issues that many students have. She has said that the role of the school is to support, not parent, the students and that a child’s mental health is the responsibility of their parents.
Donovan, who is very religious and highly active in his church, has a somewhat tame view on issues such as CRT, telling a Christian podcast that he’s fine with teaching it to children as long as it’s based on facts. Despite that, Donovan has faced accusations by some Johnston County residents of being a racist and a homophobe.
What’s interesting, and not at all surprising, about these right-wing candidates is that they nearly all say they want to keep politics out of the classroom, yet their entire campaigns and beliefs are purely political and based on false information they’ve heard from conservative politicians and media outlets.
A common thread among these candidates is their belief that critical race theory has infiltrated the classroom and is being taught to their children. The simple fact is that CRT is not something that is being taught in North Carolina schools – although it should be if we want to give our children an accurate depiction of America’s history – and despite what these candidates say, polls show that a majority of parents, across political lines, approve of their children’s schools and support what is currently being taught.
Although it’s unlikely these school board races will get much, if any, media attention, voters should consider the importance of proper education for our state’s children when they fill out their ballot. Voters are being presented with two starkly different choices – one set of candidates (overwhelmingly Democrats) believe that students should be supported, treated with respect and taught factual information while the other (Republicans) appears to simply be hellbent on scoring political points among a very vocal minority of parents – to the detriment of North Carolina’s education system.
These extremist Republicans are using our public schools to further divide our communities along racial and political lines. Radical Republicans are hurting our public schools with their extremist views, from trying to ban books and censor discussions in our classrooms, to denigrating educators and failing to fully fund schools.
Regardless of political affiliation, voters should choose the candidates who will once again make public schools a place where we can all come together and work to succeed, candidates who know that every child deserves a quality education, candidates who want to increase funding for public schools and teachers, and candidates who know that investing in North Carolina’s public schools now will mean a stronger economy and future for our state.