When it comes to surveying the big political trends of the year that was, the focus tends to be on what happened federally at Parliament Hill, or at provincial legislatures or our municipal city halls. It’s only natural. After all, those are our three levels of government and they’re where the decisions that most affect our daily lives are made.
However, there’s one other level of political decision-making that hits us very close to home that’s been ignored in recent years. That’s school boards, and the focus on them is finally making a comeback.
Back in previous decades, newspapers would assign a reporter to follow the school board beat. Residents would be informed of what went on at school board meetings and know what trustees were getting up to with almost the same detail as city councils were covered.
But as newspapers shrank and laid off staff to deal with declining revenues, the school board beat became a thing of the past. And as we stopped reporting on school board issues, the public stopped discussing and debating them. The topic just dropped off the map.
It looks like that’s now turning around, though, due to a combination of parental concerns about COVID-19 rules, “woke” agendas taking over the classroom, and a general sense of declining educational standards.
The spark that lit the flame happened in the United States during the 2021 race for Governor of the state of Virginia.
Republican contender Glenn Youngkin criticized Democrat candidate Terry McAuliffe—who had been governor in a previous term—for vetoing legislation that required schools to tell parents when there was sexually explicit material being presented in the classroom. McAuliffe responded by saying: “I’m not going to let parents come into schools and actually take books out and make their own decisions. … I don’t think parents should be telling schools what they should teach.”
Those lines, which were hotly debated around the country and in Canada as well, were considered a key reason behind McAuliffe’s narrow loss, flipping the state from Democrat to Republican. Youngkin had campaigned on ending school COVID mandates as well as pledging to ban the teaching of critical race theory in schools.
Shortly after, a parents' rights movement surged across America, led in part by former Wall Street Journal correspondent Asra Nomani, who was frustrated by the focus on political agendas in her son’s school to the detriment of quality education.
In recent months, that movement has migrated to Canada, as similar frustrations inspired parents and activists to run for school trustee positions. Such candidates have cropped up in municipal elections in cities including Vancouver, Waterloo, Toronto, and Ottawa.
While there have been attempts to smear these candidates as extremists or transphobic, the real common thread shared by these “anti-woke” candidates was their view that schools need to get back to teaching the basics.
While few of the anti-woke candidates were successful in their bids, their candidacies may have signalled the beginning of a movement. It’s not like the issues are going away. Some school boards seem to only be getting worse.
The latest scandal sweeping schools is the controversial census surveys boards have been sending out, where they ask intrusive questions about political and sexual issues to students, sometimes without alerting parents.
The Toronto District School Board’s census, which has since been shelved, asked elementary-aged kids if they knew about transgender practices that included breast binding and tucking, a phenomenon where males contort their genitals to hide them so as to look more feminized. It’s unnecessary and unacceptable to be asking kids these questions, yet the current politics permeating the education system is such that administrators seem to think this is totally normal.
As the antics that go on in schools get weirder and more concerning, and as more parents learn about what’s really happening, parents’ rights movements are only going to build momentum.
This is a good thing. What goes on in our schools has been ignored and underreported for far too long. We need more parental involvement, not less.