Winning seats on school boards has proven to be a key goal among parents at the top. Many had grown frustrated with local policies — especially pandemic rules such as student masking and distance learning — and for Gov. Ron DeSantis, who encouraged attendees to resist political pressure from woke businesses and elsewhere. as Friday morning’s special guest.
“Now is not the time to be a shrinking violet. Now is not the time to let them grind you down,” DeSantis told the cheering audience. “You have to stand up and you have to fight.”
Polarizing education issues have emerged as huge motivators in electoral politics in recent years, highlighted by Virginia GOP Governor Glenn Youngkin, who tapped into parents’ frustration and anger over Covid-19 rules and how the breed is taught to beat your opponent last year. DeSantis also consistently touted parental authority in education and vigorously defended Florida’s “Parental Rights in Education” law, dubbed “Don’t Say Gay” by opponents, which prohibits teachers from giving classroom lessons on gender identity and sexual orientation for children in kindergarten through third grade.
Some 500 people, mostly mothers and a few grandmothers, attended the Tampa “Joyful Warriors” summit. Some attendees wore Moms for Liberty branded clothing and carried signs stating “We don’t co-parent with the government” and “Mamas for DeSantis” in what was billed as “the year of parents.”
The discussion groups were closed to the media but covered a range of topics central to the group’s conservative stance, including a legal forum on parent and student rights, one on “enforcement” of First Amendment rights and a “look behind the curtain on education,” which was led by Moms for Liberty founders Tiffany Justice and Tina Descovich, both former Florida school board members. Among others scheduled to speak at the summit, let us quote Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) And Betsy DeVos, education secretary under former President Donald Trump.
Expand beyond Florida
Since launching in Florida in 2021 amid the pandemic, Moms for Liberty has exploded in growth and is approaching 100,000 members nationwide. The group is known for speaking out at school board meetings, pushing back against what it perceives as liberal policies in schools, and supporting the removal of LGTBQ-themed books from libraries.
“Tina and I needed an army of moms because superintendents weren’t listening, school boards weren’t listening,” Justice said in an interview. “They were abdicating their authority to the bureaucrats.”
Moms flocked to Tampa from across the United States, including Joy Gjersvold, who leads a Moms for Liberty chapter in Kitsap County, Washington.
Like many others, Gjersvold has been inspired to get more involved in education by the pandemic – the closure of schools in her area, a “lack of preparedness” to go virtual, masking and vaccination requirements for students and teachers. Gjersvold discovered Moms for Liberty through a Facebook post and last August founded a local affiliate in Kitsap, which spans five school districts in western Washington.
Since then, the group has grown to include a leadership team and district “captains” – parents who keep everyone up to date on educational happenings in their district. The group sees about 12 to 20 people at their regular meetings, Gjersvold said.
“It spoke to me,” Gjersvold said in an interview. “I realized that with a girl who is still in high school, I had to do something.”
DeSantis and School Board Approvals
At the event, DeSantis spoke for about an hour to a very receptive morning crowd. They applauded his policy of trying to rid Florida of critical racial theory in the backyards and booed Walt Disney Co. for opposing the state’s parental rights in education bill.
“I have a five, four, and two-year-old, so maybe I’m a little more sensitive about that,” DeSantis said. “But I think parents in this country should be able to send their kids to school, watch cartoons – just be kids – without having a program shoved down their throats.”
The Republican governor’s appearance came just a day after approving a second round of local school board candidates, doubling the list of candidates who have his support in their races. This year, dozens of Conservative-linked political committees are funneling tons of cash and influence to their top candidates as state Republicans get more involved in education after a dozen school boards resisted the DeSantis administration by requiring students to wear masks in schools last fall.
DeSantis’ effort will also help Florida Republicans control almost every government post in the state, from the governor’s mansion and the legislature to school boards in small countries.
DeSantis wondered how a Republican-leaning county like Sarasota could have a school board “fighting tooth and nail to mask kids against their will,” saying “parents now realize this is an election. really important”.
He even chose a candidate he endorsed from the crowd, Alysha “Aly Marie” Legge, who is running for a seat in Hillsborough County, one of the school boards that has challenged DeSantis and Republicans during the pandemic. .
“This school board needs work,” DeSantis told the audience. “If we left it to this school board, these children would have been excluded from school for a long time.”
As the moms gathered at their hotel, the Florida Democrats were just steps away at a nearby JW Marriott for an event featuring their annual fundraising grand gala, separated only by a bridge between the two buildings. Democrats have spent some of their time in Tampa hitting back at DeSantis and Moms for Liberty-backed policies, saying the group has ‘AstroTurf’ roots instead of a grassroots effort, pointing the finger at conservative groups who sponsored their summit, including the Heritage Foundation and Tournant USA.
Democrats alleged that a “silent majority” of voters who support their local schools would dominate Moms for Liberty’s “vocal minority.”
The fight and advocacy that Republicans give to particular candidates is not about improving education for children, Florida Democratic Party Chairman Manny Diaz told reporters.
“It’s not about kids — it’s about obsessing over power,” Diaz said.
Still, Moms for Liberty clearly urges parents to act locally as the movement continues to grow.
In Washington, for example, Gjersvold said there are 15 local school board seats up for re-election soon that local group Moms for Liberty is targeting.
“There are red voters — there are conservative voters — who know what’s going on is wrong,” Gjersvold said. “We need to empower them to have a voice.”