“I don’t think parents should be telling schools what they should teach,” commented former Virginia governor Terry McAuliffe, a Democrat, while seeking a return to office in 2021. His Republican opponent, Glenn Youngkin, wove McAuliffe’s remark into a campaign that was making education its centerpiece. When Youngkin defeated McAuliffe in an upset, many pundits declared parent activism to be a deciding factor.
Virginia was hardly the only place where controversies over parent rights boiled over in the past year. Activists fed up with school closures, masking policies, and curricular choices interrupted school-board meetings around the nation. The National School Boards Association complained about threats directed at board members, provoking an investigation by the U.S. Attorney General. Three school-board members in San Francisco were defeated in a recall election after voting to rename Abraham Lincoln High School and eliminate the exam requirement for admission to prestigious Lowell High School (see “School Board Shakeup in San Francisco,” features, Fall 2022).
The parental protests, together with school responses to the Covid pandemic, acquired a partisan edge. Republican and Democratic governors regularly disagreed about the necessity of mask wearing, social distancing, and vaccinations for the young. The districts that kept school doors closed longest were usually located in Democratic-leaning places the media labels blue. The 18 states that enacted school-choice legislation in 2021 and 2022 are mostly tinted red, or Republican-leaning.