Concerned soccer moms or rowdy mobs?
Protesters who oppose masking policies, vaccinations and critical race theory at local school board meetings say they are being unfairly labeled as “terrorists.”
At issue is a Sept. 29 letter to President Biden by The National School Boards Association that expresses concern “about attacks against school board members and educators.”
The letter’s suggestion that “these acts of malice, violence, and threats against public school officials ... could be the equivalent to a form of domestic terrorism and hate crimes” has especially riled protesters and their defenders — whom some describe as merely fed-up “suburban soccer moms” who are exercising their right to free speech.
Irate soccer moms or not, many of these protesters have been unruly and disruptive. And in some cases downright frightening.
In Austin, Texas, a parent ripped off a teacher’s face mask.
In Williamson County, Tenn., anti-mask protesters heckled and threatened doctors and nurses who were leaving a school board meeting.
In Loudoun County, Va., a large crowd of demonstrators disrupted a school board meeting in opposition to a board policy that affirmed rights for transgender students, among other grievances.
During a school board meeting in Tennessee, a student whose grandmother had died of COVID was interrupted by audience members as he attempted to speak in support of a masking policy.
Closer to home, angry parents shattered a door during an Iredell-Statesville school meeting. In Orange County, the Board of Education passed a resolution opposing “incidents of hostile and racist behavior” after the white supremacist Proud Boys appeared at school board meetings and a football game.
And in Stanly County, the school board chairman resigned Oct. 6 after receiving death threats.
We’ve even had a taste of intimidation in Guilford County, where some school board members received crude and threatening emails and voicemails in June.
It was disappointing, if not surprising, that even this has become a partisan question. North Carolina’s Ted Budd, Madison Cawthorn and David Rouzer signed a letter from GOP House members that dismissed the school board incidents “as nothing
more than a scare tactic to silence parents who are pushingback against unnecessary mandates and an agenda they disagree with being forced down our children’s throats.”
In a Facebook post, the state’s most powerful Republican, N.C. Senate leader Phil Berger, contended that there is a double standard, “defending rioters destroying entire city blocks” following the killing of George Floyd as “‘mostly peaceful’ while branding moms upset about school curriculum as some sort of national threat.” (He doesn’t mention that the “national threat” has in part been fueled an orchestrated GOP campaign to make critical race theory an ideological boogeyman.)
Thankfully, the state Board of Education sounded a more constructive tone on Sept. 28. Board Chairman Eric Davis, Vice Chairman Alan Duncan of Greensboro and State Superintendent of Public Instruction Catherine Truitt issued a joint statement that in part said that “we respect the rights of our fellow citizens to share their concerns and voice their opinions. However, this must be done without the use of intimidation or intentionally inspiring fear.”
Truitt, it’s worth noting, is a Republican who has differed with other members of the state board on other issues. But she and board colleagues rightly make a distinction between free speech and bullying.
As for whether this question is a matter of right versus left, it is not. In 2010, we expressed similar misgivings when young protesters disrupted a Greensboro City Council meeting, prompting a new security screening process for the public. In opposition to what they described as police corruption, the college students took over the council dais during a break in the meeting. Five of them were arrested.
Meanwhile, the state Task Force for Safer Schools revisited the problem of unruly school board meetings in a statement this week. Said Chairman William Lassiter, on behalf of the task force: “Adults must demonstrate the behaviors we want our children to display, such as being positive, solution-focused, and avoiding name-calling and derogatory or defamatory language when there are disagreements.”
That’s a simple ask that we all should be able to agree on, even as we may differ on the issues: Don’t model behavior that you wouldn’t condone in your children.
Even though some of these protesters are woefully — and dangerously — misinformed about the science of vaccines and masks, we affirm their right to speak their minds.
But not to threaten or disrupt or to act violently, soccer moms included.