This is Part I 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 are looking at Cabarrus County:
In Cabarrus County, there is a whole slate of controversial and concerning Republican candidates.
Incumbent Laura Blackwell’s social media shows some alarming posts including one featuring a picture of her in a “Let’s Go Brandon” shirt and another showing her support for anti-mask truckers. Blackwell believes that masks and lockdowns are an infringement on rights and freedom. If that wasn’t bad enough, Blackwell has previously courted controversy for comments she made during a school board meeting where she called another board member a derogatory name on a hot mic and used the “r-word” to describe the process of reopening schools during the COVID-19 pandemic. Blackwell received backlash from Cabarrus County officials and a petition was created to get her to resign. The petition received just shy of 5,000 signatures but, clearly, she did not resign.
Melanie Freeman, a teacher and professional cellist, says on her campaign Facebook page that she believes Common Core and social-emotional learning aim to make kids think like a “leftist liberal.” Freeman’s campaign website details more of her views, including that she believes in “education NOT indoctrination” and wants kids to be taught how to think and not what to think.
According to candidate Lane Jarvis’s campaign Facebook page, he wants all LGBT-related media removed from schools, doesn’t believe in mask mandates and has called for CRT to never be taught in North Carolina schools.
The final Republican candidate in the county with concerning views is Greg Mills, who serves as the communications chairman of the Cabarrus County Republican Party. Mills has a personal Facebook page that he uses to advocate for the removal of all LGBT-related media from schools and to criticize the current school board. One of his comments about a school board meeting said that “Democrats keep making the same mistake of copying their campaign stump speeches from [North Carolina Association of Educators] talking points.”
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.