One day after winning the gubernatorial race in Virginia, Glenn Youngkin stated “We’re going to embrace our parents, not ignore them.” Youngkin understood that angry and frustrated parents were essential to his successful bid to become governor.
All over the country, parents are dissatisfied with their local schools and school boards and concerned about their children’s future. Extended school closures, hybrid classrooms, and overly conservative quarantine policies have harmed students academically, emotionally, and behaviorally. Transitioning back and forth between remote, hybrid, and in-person creates continued stress for both parents and students, particularly the neediest children.
In Pennsylvania, Back to School PA PAC helped to mobilize and organize these distraught parents to recruit, train, and support potential school board candidates who put the students first. Supporting school board races in 17 diverse counties and well over 200 bi-partisan candidates, Back to School PA achieved a 60 percent success rate in its first endeavor. However, Back to School PA believes that 2021 was just the beginning for parent involvement in school board races and politics in general.
With no school board races in 2022 in Pennsylvania, these same advocates who formed Political Action Committees (PAC) to support school board candidates are trying to determine how they can influence and/or support other key races across the state. Parents have been activated, and most are now committed to remaining engaged in local and state government.
More parents may come out to vote in Pennsylvania in 2022 than any other election in recent history. Regardless of political affiliation, parents are exhausted and concerned about the future for their children and for the commonwealth. If schools do not stay open reliably, it is difficult for parents to work. Mothers bore the brunt of the school closures, as 33 percent of women left the workforce to support their children during virtual school. Single mothers and low-income families suffered the most during school closures. Domestic violence and child abuse increased. Pediatric hospitals are being overrun with mental health concerns, and suicide attempts have increased exponentially. More children are being hospitalized for eating disorders and depression. Parents have watched their children falling apart literally before their eyes.
Parents have spent almost two years witnessing how local government works and how it failed our children. Many parents participated in their local school board meetings for the first time. These parents would spend hours preparing their statement, and then they were dismissed as being selfish for wanting their children in school. In some districts, parent comments were actually censored or not included during virtual meetings. For the most part, parents have not been welcome at school board meetings and many have felt disrespected, while some have been escorted out of meetings by police. Parents want transparency about what is happening in the classroom, and they want to be engaged and respected, not dismissed or labeled domestic terrorists.
The National School Boards Association labeled upset parents as “domestic terrorists” who should be considered dangerous and treated as such. Instead of encouraging and modeling civil discourse, local, state and national government leaders have repeatedly shown that differing opinions and simply asking questions are not welcome.
These issues are likely to bring out more parents to vote in 2022. Parents want candidates who are not beholden to special interest groups, like the Pennsylvania State Education Association (PSEA). They want candidates who will place the importance of children and their future first. Most parents want a balanced approach to government, diversity of thought, and transparency around decision-making. Every parent wants to be respected as the person who knows what is best for their child.
Respect of parental rights may be the single biggest issue for the 2022 elections. Parents have never felt as demoralized and hopeless as they have over the last 22 months. Watching their children struggle academically, emotionally, and behaviorally and feeling helpless to support them has changed the game for many parents. And those parents who were also forced out of the workforce or had to choose between work and supporting their children during virtual learning, will not soon forget the impact of these draconian measures on their children.
2022 may be the year when parents reclaim their rights at the polls.