“I had never introduced myself to anything”, Andrew Yeager admits, during a lunch in his hometown of Southlake, near Dallas. The affable Catholic, sales manager for a major television network, is one of the legions of conservative parents who recently ran for election to their school board.
Composed of volunteers, this council oversees the local school “district” (there are 13,800 across the country), which manages public schools, usually at the county level. It decides in particular on investments and budgets, sets the objectives of educational policy and issues opinions on programs.
Stiffness in the face of calls to debate diversity after the Floyd affair
Purring? Not really anymore. Ever since the murder of George Floyd in 2020 brought the themes of inclusion and diversity to the public debate, these obscure administrators have been in the spotlight. Across the country, parents unfairly accusing schools of teaching “Critical theory of race”, a university concept on institutionalized racism, loudly invite themselves to their board meetings. Accused of “Brainwash” children, some elected officials are insulted, even threatened.
→ MAINTENANCE. George Floyd affair: “American society is neither pacified nor reconciled”
In Virginia, this conservative sling was successfully exploited by Republican Glenn Youngkin, who was elected governor in November. “We, conservative parents who believe in the Constitution, do not want schools to come between us and our children. However, this is what is happening. We have to say stop ”, he explains.
This stiffening is particularly visible in Texas. In June, Governor Greg Abbott ratified a text governing race relations and gender instruction in primary and secondary schools. It is now forbidden to teach children that they “Should experience discomfort, guilt, anxiety or any other form of psychological distress due to race and gender “. As a response to calls for whites to question their racism after the death of George Floyd.
The “school boards”, stakes of harsh campaigns
At Carroll ISD, the school district to which Southlake belongs, the school board found itself in the middle of this standoff. It all started in 2018 when a video showing white students screaming a racist insult surfaced. In this affluent city, predominantly white, but attracting a growing number of Asian families, the clip is causing a stir. The elected to the school board then work on a plan of “cultural competence”intended to promote inclusion and diversity.
Last year, school board meetings got tense. Legal proceedings are launched against its president. Southlake Families, a political action group proud of “Its roots in Judeo-Christian values” raises tens of thousands of dollars from wealthy donors to fund the campaigns of conservative council candidates. Unheard of for elections that are usually apolitical and little followed. In November, Andrew Yaeger became the third curator to join the seven-member board with the support of Southlake Families.
Her opponent, Stephanie Williams is still stunned. “We lied about my journey. My husband was also targeted. It was shocking for such an election. “ This former Republican voter (until 2016) sees the growing involvement of these virulent conservatives as an effort to stifle any discussion on issues that “Make uncomfortable” white parents. “They are doing their children a disservice. To grow, you have to know how to be pushed around ”.
The Federal Ministry of Education may well help them: in November, it opened an investigation into local schools after several complaints of discrimination.
A highly decentralized school system
In the USA, education is primarily the responsibility of states and local authorities. The programs are set by the states, but the school districts, who run public schools at the local level (usually at the county level), also have a say.
There is indeed a ministry of education in Washington. But its role is very limited. Created in 1980 by the union of services until then disseminated in different ministries, it has only 4,400 employees and works mainly through its subsidy policy, or in the field of research and statistics.