Running on Parents Rights: Getting onto the School Board During the Pandemic

One parent’s story of fighting for the best interests of children.
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Two years ago, my local school district was facing the same decision as every other school district.  They had to decide whether or not to shut down schools in face of the pandemic.  My district held votes on this topic not once, but three separate times.  Before the last of the three votes, I decided it was time for me to get involved.  Prior to this vote, I was like most parents.  We trusted our schools to simply educate our children.  Now, however, our schools were on the brink of neglecting that duty.  Hearing that there was going to be a large presence of our local teachers union demanding “safety first,” I decided to go stage a counter-protest.  What I experienced that day led me to decide to run for school board myself.  The union had set up a fake graveyard in front of the district offices representing dead teachers and students.  They said they would die if they were forced to go to work.  I politely stood alone to the side of them with a sign demanding that we be given a choice to have our kids go to school.  That is what my own child needed.  Members of the union noticed my silent counter-protest and decided to try to intimidate me.  They got right up in my face waving their signs and yelling.  Local media was present filming the union and decided to film me as well.  During my brief interview with the reporter, members of the union got behind me to try to get in the shot.

It was because of the anti-parent sentiment I experienced that day that I decided to try to make a change and run for school board.  From that day, I started to attend every school board meeting.  I made speeches at all of them. I pointed out the dangers of shutting down schools on academic achievement.  I pointed to the minority students who would be most impacted by virtual-only learning.  I called out the teachers union for putting themselves ahead of the students.  I pointed out the likely impact on student mental health.  Due to the bold nature of my speeches, the union campaigned hard against me.  They spent a lot of money painting me as someone who just didn’t understand education.  They claimed that school board members should all come from the education world.

I lost that election in the spring of 2021.  Voter turnout during the pandemic was very low, and our local election happened to land in the middle of our school’s spring break.  I didn’t give up. I continued to attend every meeting.  I continued to be very active in local parent groups demanding that schools listen to us.  The school board did everything they could to stop us as our movement grew.  The board president canceled meetings at the last minute when too many people who disagreed with the board showed up. They tried to move public comments to the end of the meeting as a way of discouraging the public from attending. They tried to limit the number of people at the meetings due to a policy that they literally made up on the spot.  They made some meetings virtual-only due to fake safety concerns.  We didn’t give up.  We kept demanding that they listen to us.  I decided to run one more time.  

I ran on a platform of transparency, accountability, and a focus on academic excellence; all the things our district had ignored. Everything I, and others, predicted about the impact of closing schools and forcing virtual learning happened,  and the community started to realize it more and more.  Many teachers reached out to me privately saying they were on my side, but were nervous to say it publicly due to pressure from the union.

Then, in April of 2022, I won my election.   

Sadly, many school board members around the country fundamentally misunderstand their job. They think they are representative of the schools to the community.  Instead, they should be representatives of the community to the schools.  They are facing the wrong way.  My job as a member of the school board is to listen to the community and bring those values and opinions to the district. My job is to demand that schools listen to the families.  My work on the board is just beginning as I try to change the course of education.  I am only one vote, but the momentum is on the side of families, who just want excellent schools.  Schools need to rise to those demands.

 

Eric Meadows
Eric Meadows is a triplet who lives in Kenosha, Wisconsin and currently sits on the Kenosha Unified School District School Board.