Press works overtime to smear parents

Tony Perkins is President of Family Research Council. Meg Kilgannon is Senior Fellow for Education Studies at Family Research Council. This article appeared in The Washington Times on March 15, 2022.

Why would a major, international news service attempt to smear peaceful parents by linking their attendance at school board meetings to a few anonymous threats by crackpots? Take, for example, the recent Reuters investigation posted and reposted on February 15. Breathless coverage is offered under a screaming headline: School boards get death threats amid rage over race, gender, mask policies. The investigation was reposted with a corrected headline, adding “amid rage” for context. 

The answer is, the Left has a sense of entitlement over an education system that is now more about inculcating our children with the Left’s “progressive” values than equipping children with the academic skills required for success. That sense of entitlement has been shattered by parents exposed to the realities of the 21st Century classroom and awakened to their responsibility. But these parents are now being treated as Public Enemy #1. 

Concerned parents are engaging in the Left’s playground of public education, and this has the Left moving toward their version of DEFCON 1. But parents’ engagement in America’s educational system should not cause concern; in years past, it would have been celebrated. Parents, after all, supply the children. So why would education officials be upset about parents becoming more involved in their children’s schooling?

Reuters reports on “contacts and interviews with 33 board members across 15 states and a review of threatening and harassing messages.” The article focuses on only 220 threatening messages, and “about half of the hostile messages documented by Reuters were sent to [Brenda] Sheridan, former chair of the Loudoun County, Virginia, school board…” This hardly seems worth the time of three reporters, given that there are over 90,000 school board members in roughly 13,000 school districts in the US.

We know something about violent threats here at FRC. Nearly 10 years ago, Family Research Council’s headquarters was the scene of a domestic terrorist shooting inspired by the Southern Poverty Law Center’s so-called “hate map.” Often when conservatives are the target of violence or threats of violence, the news media is more likely to ignore than explore. But to aid their narrative, the media will obsess over threats that would otherwise be ignored – the kind that unfortunately has become routine in our raucous political climate.

Reuters’ agenda is clear: to rehabilitate school officials while establishing a narrative supporting federal overreach by US Attorney General Merrick Garland and others demonizing parents as sources of “domestic terrorism.” The story mentions several local and federal investigations into parents, none resulted in a federal indictment. 

One crime unreported by Reuters is that of a male student who brutally raped a young woman in the women’s restroom at a Loudoun County high school. The article ignores this student’s conviction on two counts of sexual assault but editorializes, “Conservatives seized on the case as evidence of the danger of bathroom policies seeking to accommodate transgender students. But the district’s policy did not take effect until August, well after the attack.” This gross mischaracterization insults the victims and dismisses parents (not just conservatives) who are concerned that girls might be endangered when bathrooms and locker rooms are opened to anyone. 

Loudoun County parent group Fight for Schools is singled out. With strong recall campaigns underway and one school board member resignation to its credit, Fight for Schools provides needed services for parents in Loudoun County, helping them organize recall petitions and stay informed. President of Fight for Schools Ian Prior reminded us that Loudoun County parents face retaliation for speaking out. “[Sheridan] has still said nothing about belonging to a private Facebook group as a school board chairwoman, that plotted against parents with discussions of infiltrating their groups, publicly exposing them, and even hacking their websites. It’s been nearly a year, and those parents have yet to hear a single statement from Ms. Sheridan denouncing that activity.” Neither will Reuters say a word about it.

Reuters also misleads readers about why Union County school board chair Melissa Merrell “installed cameras outside her house at ‘every angle.’” Their article implies crazed parents targeted Merrell. In fact, it was unhinged teachers association officials in the Union County Association of Educators/North Carolina Association of Educators (UCAE/NCAE) who staged morbid protests against in-person learning outside her home and the school superintendent’s home. They protested for months against honoring the parents’ (and many teachers’) wishes, and students’ need to be in school, with masking optional. The UCAE/NCAE employed even more antics after the Union County board passed an anti-CRT policy. “Because of the decisions our Board made in 2020-21 to bring students back for in-person learning, UCPS was named the #1 performing schools district in North Carolina for grade-level proficiency and #1 in the state for CTE, receiving over 9,200 Career & Technical Educations certifications for students to enter the workforce.” Merrell returns us to the heart of the matter: schools are meant to educate children in cooperation with parents.

So-called investigations like Reuters’ demonstrate the progressive alignment of Big Media and Big Education. Sadly, the legacy media tend to collaborate with power rather than serve as watchdogs. Such reports demonstrate journalists share a worldview with educators that contrasts starkly with that of most parents. Therefore, parent engagement has tremendous impact. Parents need to continue to hold the line! When parents standing up for children leads to this kind of hysterical reportage from Reuters, we know that parents are making a difference.