Anti-critical race theory culture war plays out in South Bay school board races

The president of a South Bay Republican group began recruiting school board candidates last year. And her efforts have paid off.

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Friday, October 28, 2022
Anti-CRT culture war plays out in Bay Area school board races
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The president of a South Bay Republican women group began recruiting anti-CRT candidates for school boards last year. And her efforts have paid off.

PALO ALTO, Calif. (KGO) -- Across the country, many of the most fiery political debates have been happening in a place that used to be considered pretty sleepy: local school board races. And now as Bay Area voters head to the polls and fill out their ballots for the Nov. 8 election, some have been surprised to learn those national culture wars are even playing out here in some of the most liberal parts of California.

"Nobody like this has ever run for school board before and I've lived in Palo Alto for decades," said Dr. Melissa Michelson, a political science professor at Menlo College.

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She says there's a candidate on her ballot who is against teaching Critical Race Theory or CRT.

"Near me there's a woman running for school board with anti-CRT in her statement," Michelson said. "Like, whoa!"

That candidate is Ingrid Campos, who's running in the Palo Alto Unified School District. She's one of 16 candidates backed by the Silicon Valley Association of Republican Women.

Jan Soule, the group's president, says she started an effort last year to recruit candidates to run for school boards this November.

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"It started with my manicurist, OK?" said Soule. "And she's Vietnamese and I talked to her about her kids. And she said, 'Oh, but they don't have the same values that the parents have.' And you go, well why is that? Because they've been in public school and they've been taught that socialism is good and America is bad."

Soule provided us video from the first informational meeting she held in a friend's backyard. She says 50 people showed up.

In the video you can hear them say, "Father God, we thank you and I thank you for these wonderful people who have said, 'I'm not willing to stand by and see our children indoctrinated.'"

Soule now has candidates running in 10 different school board races across the South Bay. The districts include San Jose Unified, Palo Alto Unified, Morgan Hill Unified, Los Altos Elementary, Campbell Union Elementary, Campbell High School, Cambrian Unified, Fremont Union High School, Franklin-McKinley and Union Elementary.

Many of them are parents. For all of them, it's their first time ever running for office.

Soule showed us some of her candidates' campaign fliers.

Kreutz: "These candidates are not hiding their beliefs."

Soule: "They're not hiding their beliefs."

Many explicitly say they don't believe in discussing gender identities, like transgender, in school and are against teaching critical race theory. One uses a quote and photo of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to make their case about how to talk about race.

"Look, if we just talked about slavery being bad, which we all agree is bad, right?" said Soule. "But now they turn it around so white people, white children and Asians have to apologize for their whiteness. Apologize! And that really is totally wrong."

"We are not teaching critical race theory in K-12," said Dr. Sarah Hill, a political science professor at Cal State Fullerton. "This is not the case. That is a misunderstanding of what critical race theory is."

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"But how are we going to talk about race in the classroom?" she said. "How are we going to talk about things like LGBTQ people? So that's what we're really seeing play out and you're seeing the candidates sort of vie against each other in terms of how they're going to talk about these issues. Should books be banned? We're seeing those issues playing out across school board races."

Hill also points out these school board positions are nonpartisan, meaning no party affiliation is listed on the ballot. But she says in California, where Democrats make up the majority of registered voters, the effort to mobilize candidates to run for these school boards has been led predominantly by Republicans. The California GOP has even started this program called "Parent Revolt." The goal is to recruit and train school board candidates.

"In California there's a lot of frustration for Republicans because state offices are held by Democrats. Where can you make a difference? At the local level. And so school boards are those local races where the battle between Republicans and Democrats is still really playing out."

"That has always been the strategy of the Santa Clara Republicans," Soule said. "The Republican Party for years said, 'Well, we can run people for nonpartisan positions.'"

But even Soule acknowledges that this year something is different. She says she's never had this many candidates run for office.

Given the area's political leanings, Dr. Michelson says she's most surprised the candidates are being so upfront.

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"So that does, of course, makes me wonder like, is that a winning message in Palo Alto?" she said. "I'd be surprised? But again, if you're more conservative you don't tend to advertise it. So we'll see."

Soule says being upfront is part of their strategy.

"If a voter really wants to look, they can make a decision," she said.

Soule believes these are the issues that are galvanizing the candidates, especially fed-up parents.

She says just look at San Francisco.

Kreutz: "Did that give you momentum?"

Soule: "Oh yeah! I'm like, OK people are waking up. That's good. And if it can happen in San Francisco, it can almost anywhere. Correct?"

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