When a far-right group took over Pennridge School District in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, they hoped that swift action and shadow tactics would cow the community into inaction. Instead, their rhetoric has drawn so much attention that it has spawned a growing countermovement.
School board elections are often low-turnout—easily missed in the grand scheme of politics. But when Joan Cullen, a woman who participated in the Jan 6 insurrection, won a seat on the Pennridge school board, even the most politically adverse parents took notice. By then, a process was underway that left the school board with a 5-4 majority of members who have been linked to far-right group Moms For Liberty.
The group got to work right away with their usual agenda. “[They] were all fired up and they were saying that critical race theory was rampant in our schools, and radical gender theory,” local parent Darren Laustsen told Salon. “That we were teaching our kids to hate their white skin. I was like, oh man, these are not serious people. My daughter was getting ready to go into first grade and I was like, man, we gotta do something about this.”
Not only were the board members ideologically extreme for the area—Bucks County has maintained a narrow Democrat lead in recent elections—they were highly organized and well funded. In time, parents and local journalists found evidence the board members had been in contact with other conservative Christian organizations, including Hillsdale College and Independence Law Center (which has ties to the Family Research Council).
The school board further stunned the community when they approved a new curriculum by Jordan Adams, former Ron DeSantis appointee for reviewing textbooks. In an effort to stifle objections, Adams’ contract had reportedly been “rushed through.” Adams himself gave a rough outline of this tactic at a Moms for Liberty event near Bucks County—a speech that was subsequently leaked to the press.
“We should be moving on multiple policy areas and it should be happening quickly and efficiently,” Adams said, after explaining, “The idea is that the other side … cannot keep up with all of it.”
In actuality, it was both the secrecy and flurry of activity around the school board that got parents to pay attention. Those parents formed the Ridge Network to counteract Moms Against Liberty, and despite the relatively small district size, their Facebook group has already reached 1,400 members.
Horror asks us what we would do in a horrible, no-win scenario and then attempts an answer.
“We have more people,” Ridge Network parent Jane Cramer said, while acknowledging that their group is neither as well-organized nor as well-funded as their opponents. But what’s important is standing their ground and preserving their community.
“I made the decision to raise my children in the Pennridge school district, even though it’s a two-mom family and they’re Asian American,” Cramer said. “It’s not gonna be a DEI utopia in Pennridge, ever. We weren’t asking for that. We were asking for basic DEI kind of stuff.”
“I have a queer kid and she wasn’t treated so nicely at the school,” said parent Laura Foster. “The school counselors’ hands were tied, in terms of responding, and it broke my heart. Ever since then, I’ll do whatever I can to show my daughter that I will stand up for her and other kids like her.”
Despite their attempts to confuse and distract the community, Moms for Liberty—with its out-of-town money—is facing intense pushback from local parents. Before Ridge Network can reclaim the school board in the next election, the plan is to spread that network to other parents. “I don’t have any expectations of our school board doing anything for our children at all,” Foster explained. “I speak to the community.”
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