To no one’s surprise, the local Moms For Liberty chapter has spent the past couple of weeks publicly celebrating its triumph in forcing the School Board to remove from on-campus libraries all of the books the group challenged on grounds that they included sexually explicit content.
It doesn’t matter that a new state law left the board no other choice.
Or that this entire issue was as bogus as it was concocted.
Or that this latest, wholly unnecessary culture-war battle has driven a wedge into our community and created a gaping chasm on our School Board.
The Moms desperately needed a victory, even one so hollow, achieved only with the assistance of an out-of-town rabble-rouser, his dim-bulb disciples and a state government that continues to impose its will on counties, municipalities and school districts.
They needed something to create the impression that they’re relevant in our community – the Moms represent only a tiny percentage of the parents in our School District – and they got it.
But at what cost?
Were the fleeting headlines worth the lasting damage done by the cultural combat, which has left us with a fiercely divided School Board that must now try to function in the absence of trust and respect?
On one side, we have three principled board members determined to focus on the job we elected them to do – improve the quality of education in our public schools, raise the level of student achievement in our classrooms, and accomplish both in a safe and secure learning environment.
On the other side, we have two members who have put doctrine over duty and aligned with the local Moms group to use board meetings to push an intolerant, partisan, uber-conservative agenda that pretends to advocate for parental rights by diminishing the value of professional educators.
“We’re on completely different wavelengths,” board member Brian Barefoot said last week, when he expressed frustration with the amount of time the district has wasted on matters that have nothing to do with educating children.
And while the discourse between the two sides on the school board has remained mostly civil, recent months have seen the verbal exchanges become more antagonistic and the tone become more confrontational as the relationships continue to deteriorate.
At last week’s superintendent’s workshop, in fact, Moms-backed board newcomer Gene Posca accused Vice Chair Teri Barenborg of embracing a “fascist ideology,” merely because she suggested citizen-input speakers at board meetings specify whether they are parents of students in the district.
Posca also criticized Barenborg for accurately referring to the Moms’ staged parade to the public-comment podium at the board’s Aug. 28 meeting as a “sideshow.”
It was at that tumultuous meeting last month the Moms’ local leaders recruited speakers who were given cheat sheets containing sexually explicit excerpts from school library books and told to read them at the meeting, knowing Board Chair Peggy Jones would be forced to stop them because of the content.
The Moms orchestrated the charade, seizing upon a new state law that requires such books to be permanently removed from libraries, if the board chair stops the speakers from reading the excerpts.
Then, in a pathetically transparent attempt to attract national attention, the Moms brought in North Carolina-based pastor John Amanchukwu – known for stirring up controversy at public gatherings across America – to punctuate their effort, which he did by disrupting the meeting until Jones asked sheriff’s deputies to remove him from the chamber.
Little did most of us know that Amanchukwu would post video recordings of the incident on his social-media accounts, which have more than 2 million followers, and then feature the clips on his YouTube show, which he uses to raise funds.
His social-media video, though, also served as a call to arms for his followers, who unleashed a barrage of hostile, obscene and threatening phone calls and emails that targeted Jones, Barenborg and Barefoot.
The threats prompted a Sheriff’s Office investigation that was still active when this week began, but neither Posca and nor board member Jackie Rosario – the Moms’ staunchest ally and most dependable mouthpiece on the dais – addressed the threats during the workshop.
Instead, both referred to the fallout from Amanchukwu’s actions simply as “what happened,” presumably to downplay the potential danger incited by the Moms’ reckless, whatever-it-takes mindset.
Don’t be surprised to see the Moms try to obtain the venomous correspondences from the district in hopes of using them to minimize the seriousness of the threats, which they say they don’t condone but haven’t publicly condemned.
In the meantime, don’t expect Jones, Barenborg and Barefoot to back down. They’re already justifiably concerned that neither Rosario nor Posca extended to Superintendent David Moore the professional courtesy of alerting him to the Moms’ plan to dominate the public-comment podium at the Aug. 28 meeting.
Last week’s workshop, though, produced some uncomfortable moments, too.
With all of the Moms-challenged books already having been removed from on-campus libraries because they contained sexually explicit content, there was no need for board members to waste another minute discussing them.
Yet they spent more than an hour arguing over why the books weren’t pulled off shelves earlier, the changes in state law that required their removal now, and the public-comment process that ultimately got them banned.
Responding to Posca’s “sideshow” remark, Barenborg said she did not want to censor anyone. She was merely suggesting that the citizen-input form be amended to allow board members to know more about speakers who go to the podium.
“We have all been voted in by constituents that vote in our county – not from North Carolina, not from outside of our district – and I think it’s important to know who’s speaking to us,” Barenborg said.
She then pointedly asked: “Is this really about removing a book that is harmful to children, or is it about somebody getting to speak on camera and getting it to go viral?”
Barenborg also questioned Posca’s wrongheaded defense of the Moms’ excerpt-reading stunt.
Rosario, as usual, soon engaged in the sometimes-contentious discussion.
She becomes most animated and speaks more passionately when addressing culture-war topics than at any other time during board meetings.
And, as expected, she used the workshop to do more of the Moms’ bidding, joining her wingman Posca in objecting to any potential changes to the citizen-input process.
She also recommended more public seating be provided in the board’s chamber, where she said Moore’s cabinet members “take up too much space up front.”
It was obvious Rosario wanted to make sure the Moms could again pack the room when needed – because she knows more trumped-up, culture-war nonsense is coming.
Spoiler Alert: Look for the Moms to target the School District’s mental health curriculum, which Gov. Ron DeSantis, his wife and the state education department want replaced by a new “resiliency education” program that preaches perseverance.
So it’s only a matter of time before our already-divided School Board is thrust into that quagmire, too, even though the “Erika’s Lighthouse” curriculum already in place has proven to be popular and successful.
“It’s a bad look for the community,” Barefoot said of all the board conflict the past two-plus years.
This is what happens in a culture war, where at least one side sees the other as an enemy that poses a threat to its world view and must be defeated. This is what the Moms want.
They’re already deciding what books are allowed in our school libraries, and they’re just getting started.
For her part, Jones said she will continue to do her job as chair, running the board meetings and focusing on educating the district’s students.
“I never lose track of why we’re there,” Jones said. “We haven’t stopped doing what we need to do, no matter how many distractions they throw at us.”
But there’s an election in November, and both Jones and Barefoot are on the ballot. What happens if the Moms wrest control of our School Board?
The war will be lost, and so will our school district.