The far right has launched a national campaign to take over our school boards and dictate what our kids can and can’t learn. And we’re seeing it play out right now in Temecula, California. We sat down with People For Field Director Alana Byrd and Research Director Peter Montgomery to talk about what’s happening in Temecula and across the country.
Alana, you were recently in Temecula with our Grandparents For Truth program. Can you tell us about the #RecallAll3 movement and kind of what’s happening on the ground there?
Yeah, absolutely. So recently, Temecula elected three new members to the school board. These are three religious, right wing, ultra conservative, authoritarian new members of this school board who came in and immediately made changes that really negatively impact a lot of the citizens in Temecula.
The first thing they did when they came in was ban the teaching of so-called critical race theory. Even though critical race theory was not and continues to not be taught in those classrooms in Temecula, it’s basically a signal that they are not okay with teaching about racism, and structural racism in America in general.
They also banned the teaching of Harvey Milk and called him a “pedophile.” They also then instituted what’s called a parental notification law, which means, essentially, if a student in the Temecula school district asks to be identified with a gender or pronoun different from that assigned at their birth, a school administrator, staff member or teacher will then be required to tell the parent of that student or parents of that student or guardians about that change, thus breaking that trust between the school administration and teachers and staff and that student.
And then finally, just recently, the Temecula school Board banned the flying of all flags other than the American flag and the Californian flag in school classrooms or on school campuses and it’s very clear to the citizens in that area that it is a thinly veiled ban on the Pride flag in Temecula. And so a lot of the citizens on the ground in Temecula saw what was going on and are very frustrated and upset that this is happening because they thought that they were in a safe space.
They thought that they were able to raise their kids in a place where those kids could be themselves. But they’re seeing that that’s not the case. They’re very much threatened by what they’re seeing. And so they decided, hey, this is not the people that we thought we were electing.
This is not who we saw on the campaign trail. These are basically authoritarians. And so they decided to launch a recall campaign. It’s called Recall All Three, and it was started by the One Temecula Valley PAC. And they are out there collecting signatures to try to recall these three members and to get some members in there that reflect the values of people in Temecula.
Obviously there’s a lot to be concerned about Temecula. Can you tell me a little bit more about what our Grandparents for Truth did?
Yeah. So on August 5, our Grandparents for Truth came together at a winery in Temecula. We had a rally there with about 200 people, and we talked about why it was important that we recall these folks, why it’s important that we fight for the well being and representation of all communities in Temecula, and, of course, in American education writ large.
One of our Temecula Grandparents for Truth, Holly Hall, came and spoke to the group about why she’s a Grandparent for Truth, why she’s a member of People For and what she’s doing to get involved.
We hear a lot about “parental rights” in these discussions, but we lose track of what is actually happening to the kids who are having to live under these laws. Alana, can you talk a little bit about the impact these laws really have on our kids trying to grow up?
For sure. I feel a little bit lucky in my experience. I went to a public high school where I felt very comfortable with a lot of my teachers.
I felt like I could go to them and talk to them about things that I definitely, as a teenager, couldn’t speak to my parents about. So I see two parts to this. I see the educational part and then the social part of high school.
For a student like me, there were days that I didn’t want to go and hang out with friends in the cafeteria. I just wanted to be alone. And I had certain teachers whose classrooms were havens for me. Growing up as a queer student, growing up as a student who is introverted and didn’t necessarily want to be around people all the time, I knew that I had Ms. Sheridan or Mr. Hasty.
I could go to their classroom and feel comfortable and be allowed to be me. And for a lot of students nowadays, I mean, that has changed. Students in Temecula, if they want to confide in their teacher, if they want to be themselves, they may not have that opportunity anymore because teachers could get in trouble if they don’t then talk to the parent of that student.
And then there’s also the educational piece of it. Students now in schools like Temecula and schools across the country, like places in Florida and Virginia where “CRT” is banned, those students have a disadvantage coming into both the world and higher education.
They’re coming in not knowing the full history of our people, not knowing the full history of slavery. I mean, students in Florida are supposed to be taught now that slavery was a good thing for slaves at the time because it taught them trades and skills, which is mind boggling.
They’re not going to be able to compete in a workforce, in an education force that understands the importance of learning our full history and civics. And the larger picture is if we don’t know history, it’s doomed to repeat itself. And that’s what really scares me.
We’re already seeing the banning of books. We’re seeing the banning of curricula. These are the early signs of a fascist state. So it’s scary.
Right Wing Watch reported on megachurch pastor Jack Hibbs and his campaign against LGBTQ students, which we’re already seeing happen and impact students in Chino Valley. Peter, can you tell me a little bit about what this is and what’s happening?
Jack Hibbs is a very politically active far right pastor who is a Christian nationalist who says that separation of church and state is a myth. He has initiated a statewide and nationwide campaign to get school boards to adopt the kind of anti trans student language that was adopted in Temecula. It’s language that they took from a bill that had been proposed by a Republican legislator in California. The bill did not pass, but they’re taking that language now and pushing it in school boards.
One of the other school boards that Hibbs is very involved in, as you mentioned, is the Chino Valley School Board. There, the president and the rest of the majority of that board now all go to Hibbs’s church. So he really is fulfilling his vision of having religious right activists take over school boards, impose the kind of harmful policies that Alana was just describing, but he wants that to happen statewide and around the country. And there is a huge national movement by a number of right wing and religious right groups to take over school boards as a means to building broader political power and also as a means to imposing right wing ideology in schools in the name of parental rights.
I’m glad you used that phrase because I want to dig into that a little bit. What does the far right mean when they use that phrase, “parental rights?” Can you dig into that?
The idea of parental rights or the parents rights movement is something that has a long history from the religious right. They used it back in the last wave of school board takeovers they worked on in the 1990s.
And that’s partly an effort to undermine faith in public schools by convincing parents that there’s something nefarious going on, that teachers and educators are somehow trying to undermine parental authority or indoctrinate their kids into ideologies that are counter to what their parents believe in. So it’s really an effort to undermine faith in educators and in public schools altogether.
The parental rights movement has been weaponized in the last couple of years as a means of helping right wing candidates at all levels win elections, not just school boards. Take Virginia, where Glenn Youngkin used parental rights as a political weapon to get elected governor. That has inspired right wing groups all over the country to pour money into school board campaigns.
Groups like Moms for Liberty, under the banner of parental rights, are pushing censorship, book bans. They’re stripping books about race and sexuality out of libraries. They’re banning curricula, all in the name of parental rights. And Moms for Liberty and others are also not only trying to elect school board members, they are now putting effort into electing state superintendents of education who can help push this kind of right wing curricula that they want statewide.
We’ve already seen damaging state superintendents of education like Ryan Walters in Oklahoma, who has declared war against teachers unions, calls them terrorist organizations, and is using, supposedly, his post overseeing education to promote MAGA ideology to defend Trump against his indictments. So it’s really a sign that the far right sees schools and school boards as religious tools in their political war and their culture war.
So, Peter, Alana, all of this is kind of scary. What can we do about it? What can our Grandparents For Truth, what can people who have kids, who don’t have kids, who are in Temecula, who aren’t in Temecula, what can we do? Because this really does impact all of us.
The first thing that folks can do is sign up for Grandparents for Truth. We’re a new group started by People For and for grandparents and their allies. So really, anyone who cares about the freedom to learn for the next generation. You don’t have to be a grandparent. Sign up and you’ll get calls to action, the latest news, and ways that you can plug in to work in Temecula and beyond.
To support the recall effort, you can visit RecallAll3.org. Sign up there to collect signatures for this recall, knock on doors and be involved generally in the recall efforts.
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It’s time to make our voices heard to combat attacks on the freedom to learn, which are attacks on our children’s future and on our democracy.