ST. PAUL — While school board candidates opposed to mask mandates and racial equity education scored some victories in local elections across Minnesota this week, groups of candidates seeking to take over suburban Twin Cities school boards failed at the polls.
Normally uneventful school board meetings were thrust into the national spotlight this year amid growing intensity in the debate over COVID-19 precautions and school curriculums on race, gender and history. Protests at board meetings have drawn condemnation from national education leaders.
Parents have packed meetings across the country to voice their anger over school policy, and the meetings at times have turned violent. In one widely reported incident in Minnesota, a fight broke out during an intense debate over masks at a Carver County school board meeting this September. In a prelude, a scuffle broke out between supporters and opponents of critical race theory in Moorhead at a June conference held on the subject held by a conservative political group.
Though the actual doctrine of critical race theory (CRT) is an advanced academic concept that educator groups say is not specifically part of curriculums in K-12 classrooms, the term has become a rallying cry for conservatives who disagree with the way race, gender and history are taught about in schools.
The tensions over masks and CRT, a once-obscure academic approach that has become conservative shorthand for education that asserts racism is inherently built into American life, have led to a wave of school board resignations across Minnesota.
More than 70 board members have resigned this year alone, three times more than normal, according to Kirk Schneidawind, director of the Minnesota School Boards Association. Minnesota Public Radio reported the trend in October.
Two school board members in Byron, Minnesota, quit in August, one over the “physical and mental toll” and the other over public harassment, the Rochester Post Bulletin reported. The board filled both seats last month.
In many other cases, resignations led to special elections — 36 of them, in fact, Schneidawind said.
But in those special and regularly scheduled elections Tuesday, Nov. 2, conservative-leaning school board members failed to make serious headway.
Anti-mask and CRT candidates who ran as groups in suburbs of the state’s largest metro area such as Wayzata, White Bear Lake failed to form blocks on school boards, despite abnormally visible campaigns in races that tend to fall on the quieter side.
Meanwhile, just one of a group of four candidates for the South Washington County school board running to oppose mask mandates won a seat, the St. Paul Pioneer Press reported.
Candidates opposed to masks and racial equity education did score some victories Tuesday. In the Anoka-Hennepin school district, candidate Matt Audette won a board seat on an explicitly anti-critical race theory campaign.
Audette had the endorsement of the 1776 Project, a national political action committee opposed to CRT in schools that backed dozens of candidates nationwide and raised more than $400,000 dollars since its founding late last year, according to Federal Election Commission Records.
In west-central Minnesota, an anti-CRT conservative candidate won a seat on the Alexandria school board where the member had resigned earlier this year. That candidate, Maureen Eigen, shared content from 1776 Project PAC on her campaign’s Facebook page and had an endorsement from the group as well.
The president of Minnesota’s teacher’s union said the anti-mask and CRT candidates’ lackluster performance is a sign that the candidates’ ideas do not actually reflect the views of most voters.
“Minnesotans know public schools are the key to preparing students for successful lives after high school and for teaching the lessons that will help them avoid the mistakes of our nation’s past,” Education Minnesota President Denise Specht said in a statement. (Voters) rejected the angry voices that have disrupted school boards and threatened educators for the past five months.”
Still, Schneidawind, whose association represents all schoolboard members regardless of political affiliation, says this year’s trend might not go away.
“I don’t think this bloc thing is one year and done,” he said.
This story has been corrected to describe the elections to replace resigned board members as special elections.