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Opinion | Michigan school culture warriors lost, but they remain a threat

Michigan ballot boxes and new voter survey results point to a population largely ready to move on from the school culture wars and focus on local, data-relevant issues.

Becky Olson
Becky Olson is the co-founder of Support FHPS (Forest Hills Public Schools) and a member of the Network for Public Education, Michigan Education Justice Coalition and Students Rights Council. (Courtesy photo)

After electing pro-public education leaders and educators to serve in Lansing, petitions for the latest voucher-like plan for Michigan were withdrawn. 

With so much attention on the “parental rights” movement heading into election 2022, these wins bring relief for many serving, attending and relying on Michigan’s K-12 schools. 

But not so fast. 

We need to focus on proper funding, school safety, mental health and student outcomes, but we also cannot stop morally supporting districts, students and educators whose boards have been shaken up by “parental rights” and anti-diversity candidates. 

Perpetuating culture war issues like neutralizing diversity, implementing “Don’t Say Gay” rules, and advocating for book bans won’t make any dents in Michigan student performance or keep educators in their roles. The constant rhetoric against these populations is taking a toll on mental health. 

Educators, librarians, media specialists and marginalized student populations in these districts continue to be targeted and subjected to disruptive behavior at their business meetings. Recently, a resident in the Milan school district brought and read a copy of Penthouse magazine to attendees during the monthly Board of Education meeting, attempting to equate it to literature found in public school libraries. Unacceptable. 

In Allendale Public Schools, the newly elected board wants to back out of their relationship with the Michigan Association of School Boards for a Moms for Liberty / Moms for America competitor known for fanning the flames of culture war issues. 

Elsewhere in Ottawa County, decisions being made by a new county commission point to ongoing battles against the “indoctrination” of school children – and questionable ethics. 

Where does this leave students, educators and neighbors who will continue to be subjected to mockery and threats?

Public education in Michigan may have won on a larger level this past election, but now is no time to look away. 

I am one of the many public school parents who embraced the unlikely role of defending our district in Forest Hills near Grand Rapids from culture war attacks in the two years leading up to this election. 

Alongside fellow supporters of our district who uprooted lives in other states to attend, we created a group called Support FHPS and sounded an alarm early on to this national attack strategy. We clarified disinformation at every turn and explained how the politically motivated culture war could have risked most of our Board of Education seats and our property values. 

Ours was a hard-fought race, but fortunately, most of our seats went to pro-public education candidates. As a result of my immersion in this unexpected public school advocacy landscape, I see the need to step up and stay the course into 2024. Facts are available on what voters care about when it comes to education, but disinformation is plentiful. 

It’s certain that 2024 will resurface the conversation about schools and culture war topics. In some areas of Florida, school board candidates are already filing years ahead of schedule to get a leg up. 

One can only hope that those with students in Michigan schools will continue to speak up for their libraries, educators and students who aren’t witnessing the rumored bathroom litter boxes or uptick in school library-inspired pornography addictions. (I haven’t been able to find an ounce of data on books causing issues, but limiting screen access is proven to help.) 

The impact of these education and other recent county-level topics spotlights the importance of participating in local government elections, which are too often overlooked on the ballot. The true success of education in Michigan depends on it. 

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