Free to Learn Action (FTL Action) President Alleigh Marré told Breitbart News exclusively the battle over public schooling is far from over after electoral victories across the country in 2021, saying “The actual … effect of this movement and the mood is still yet to be seen, and there’s a ton of work to do.”
FTL Action is the 501(c)(4) wing of Free to Learn Coalition (FTL Coalition), a “parent-driven organization” that “advocate[s] for classrooms free of politics and activism.”
“I don’t think the focus on education is going anywhere, anytime soon. … it’s just it’s not going to go away. There’s no way,” Marré said, referencing the sentiment across the country that has parents heavily engaged in their children’s schooling after the proliferation of Critical Race Theory, intrusive transgender policies, political activism, and flippant school boards attempting to retain power.
Talking about the evolution of the issue, Marré told Breitbart News her organization got off the ground in June 2021, and “within the first two weeks of launching … way before things got really heated up through the lens of Virginia … we had heard from thousands of parents in all 50 states. So, I mean, it’s just unbelievable.”
Even so, many families were still unaware of the politicization of schools at the time and FTL made it their mission to shine a light on issues across the country by targeting a wide variety of case studies.
“It was completely a public education campaign, in the sense of educating the public … just about how this is everywhere, and everyone needs to be paying attention,” Marré said. “And then from there, of course, because of everything that started to develop in Loudoun County, [Virginia], and we were already focused in Fairfax, we started to play a much larger role in Virginia.”
Parent to School Board: You're Only Firing Pro-Antifa Teacher "Because Y'all Got Caught" pic.twitter.com/FKBqzRZY4S
— Breitbart News (@BreitbartNews) September 3, 2021
“But I think we’re at a point now where there are a lot of organizations such as PDE, Parents Defending Education, and then, you know, Ian Prior’s group out of Loudoun [Fight for Schools], who have done a really good job, just broadly from a from a sunlight perspective, showing a lot of examples where parents are getting getting smart about what this language actually is and what to be looking out for,” Marré continued, saying parents are now more aware than ever of “people who are more prone to actually pushing this political and activism-driven curriculum” who “play cute games with the language” such as phrases like “anti-racist,” “culturally responsive teaching,” and “equity.”
Virginia was not the only focus, though. Marré told Breitbart News they had three “primary targets for part of this public awareness campaign.”
The education advocate said that Grace Church School, a New York private school, Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) in Virginia, and Peoria Unified School District (PUSD) in Arizona, were chosen because they represented a wide swathe of the country. These schools were in “different geographic subsets … to illustrate the point that ‘Hey, this isn’t unique to, you know, the Midwest or to the Southeast,’ I mean, it’s all over the place, first of all, and then secondly, it knows no bounds as far as public or private, socioeconomic makeup of a community, et cetera. … This activism and this political effort to educate kids through that lens: It’s something that is pervasive and widespread and all over the country,” According to Marré.
“Clearly, it’s been been trending this way for some period of time, you know, this doesn’t happen overnight,” she continued. “And that’s why parents are so fired up and getting engaged.”
The countrywide focus on Virginia’s gubernatorial election, Marré said, “presented a really unique opportunity for us to talk about the implications of the public policy.”
“It was really COVID that kind of opened everyone’s eyes to this, right, like parents became de facto teachers’ aides,” Marré told Breitbart News. “And so they were sitting there seeing what their kids were learning when they were learning it, et cetera. But what we’re learning now is that the teachers and the administrators, if there is this desire to maintain control over this curriculum, that they’re being smarter about not sending that stuff home.”
Marré referenced one such instance of teachers and administrators “being smarter” about not sending home controversial curriculums from PUSD, on which Breitbart News reported exclusively and FTL is aiding the complainants.
Parents Shawn and Amy Souza spoke with Breitbart News about their experience with PUSD, and how, rather than following the decision to opt their child out of certain lessons, the school district decided to “tone down” subject titles, but not change any of the content in order to not raise any “red flags,” as Amy put it.
PUSD went as far as to say, speaking over email with a “politically-motivated” teacher, “The title of your topics are causing some of the issues with the Souza’s[sic] and the parents in their camp.” [Emphasis added]. .
“The political curriculum and the activism side are now going a step further to be just dishonest with how information is presented,” Marré told Breitbart News. “And so the shift is a little bit more from, ‘Hey, here’s the key words to watch out for’ to, ‘Hey, you need to you need to actually ask the questions, because we’re not just gonna see it anymore.’ So, if there isn’t this push for transparency from parents to, you know, their school boards or to their, you know, teachers within their school or the director-level folks, I think some districts are going to try and be a little bit more sneaky and smart about hiding it and just not sending that stuff home.”
Marré expressed to Breitbart News that getting stories like the Souzas’ out there is creating a dramatic shift in public engagement which will ultimately lead to policy changes that directly confront academic activism and politicization, and reimplement a curriculum that “adequately prepar[es] students for life outside the classroom.”
Several school districts in Democrat states across the country are canceling classes and returning to remote learning, citing “coronavirus concerns” and “widespread teacher exhaustion,” USA Today reported. https://t.co/Q6xBIoIQgy
— Breitbart News (@BreitbartNews) November 14, 2021
Referencing the fact that school board elections are often unchallenged, held on a rolling basis, and therefore suffer from extremely low voter turnout, Marré said the work being done now “is going to make a huge difference” because “people are now actually paying attention.”
“For a long time, parents and community members have just trusted schools with the you know, the custodial aspect that came with education: your kid went somewhere for eight hours a day, and you had every reason to trust your friends and neighbors who are the teachers, because it’s so local — and in a lot of places, it’s so familial,” Marré noted, asserting that the tide is now turning. “But now that we’ve seen this, parents and committee members know to ask the questions, they know to be engaged. I think they’re paying attention a little bit more as to who … actually has their name on the ballot in these nonpartisan elections, and they know what questions to ask. So, I think in the immediate term, we’re just going to see a huge uptick in just the civic engagement aspect of school board participation.”
But participation is not the only outcome that will come of shining a light on the interworking of America’s schools, Marré says. While in some places, like Virginia, there is heavy participation, in others, like Arizona, there are tangible actions parents can take to reclaim their children’s education.
Marré described to Breitbart News the difference between the two states, saying “the Virginia stuff obviously gives everyone an idea of the mood and where parents and voters feel about parental engagement, and their kid’s education and that kind of stuff. But, it doesn’t necessarily reflect change.”
“But that is, to me, what is so interesting about the Souzas’ story, and Arizona writ large, is that there are very few places where there is actually an opportunity for parents to take some action and get some recourse for having their parental rights violated,” Marré continued.
As Breitbart News previously reported, Arizona has a Parents’ Bill of Rights that not only allows parents to “direct the upbringing [and] education … of their child,” but also creates avenues for recourse when those rights have been abridged.
Referencing the Souzas’ case, Marré, who is a Virginia resident and mother of two, said “there’s actually going to be, hopefully, a consequence for the teacher who was engaged in this. … And so, if there are a handful of cases like that, that kind of sets the precedent for parents needing to be respected versus parents just yelling in Virginia that we need to be respected,” as Virginia does not afford the same oversight to parents that Arizona does.
“Because, you know, no one is going to want to lose their teaching license,” Marré continued. “A Superintendent is not going to want to lose their job because the school board has turned over and isn’t going protect him anymore. So, I think the actual effect of this movement and the mood is still yet to be seen, and there’s a ton of work to do.”
“What I will say that is unique about Arizona, is that it has teeth,” Marré explained the dichotomy further. “There’s a difference between the rights existing, and the opportunity for recourse because, at this point, like in Virginia, say I send my daughter to school and something like what happened with the Souzas happened in her school: the only thing I could really do was hope that the district felt the pressure from me to do something about it, or I have to pull my kid from the school. And that’s it. Those are my choices. … But in Arizona? Sure, it’s a little bit of a longer process. But there’s an opportunity to set a precedent.”
As Breitbart News reported, the Souzas hope to set precedent in Arizona, as they are the first family to file a complaint under Arizona’s Parental Bill of Rights law. But the Souzas also told Breitbart News that they hope to set an example for the entire country by encouraging parents to look into what rights they do have in their respective states, and if they do not have adequate rights, demand them of their representatives.
Another potentially precedent-setting case FTL is involved with is a lawsuit against Pennsbury School District in Bucks County, Pennsylvania.
In this First Amendment challenge, the plaintiffs in the case are suing the school board becuase they instituted speech-restrictive policies during public comment periods of their meetings. Such policies included reserving the right to cut off a microphone of a speaker if they participated in speech deemed by the board as “personally directed,” “personal attacks,” “abusive,” “verbally abusive,” “irrelevant,” “disruptive,” “offensive,” “inappropriate” or “otherwise inappropriate,” as the Reporter noted. The board also required speakers to announce their home addresses before their remarks.
“The moderator of the school board meeting was just shutting these people down for asking questions that, you know, we’re in disagreement with the positions of the board,” Marré, whose organization filed an amicus brief in support of the plaintiffs, told Breitbart News. “And so these four folks have sued the board they filed. They filed their lawsuit. And actually, just yesterday, there was a preliminary injunction sent down from from the court that actually put a stop to the to the rules set forth by the school board. … So that’s something that we’re engaged in and following very closely, because, again, similar to the abuses in Arizona, it’s an opportunity to set precedent for the country because we’re seeing the school boards all over the place trying to change their rules so that they don’t have to deal with these parents.”
Judge Gene E.K. Pratter of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, who placed the preliminary injunction on the school board, said of the policies that “Public speech at school board meetings is in fact protected by the First Amendment.”
In that case, the school board said it will file for appeal.
A new Vermont education law requires middle and high schools to offer free condoms, the first such law in the nation. https://t.co/rOmsODoRo5
— Breitbart News (@BreitbartNews) November 15, 2021
When asked how FTL will decide to place their resources with the 2022 midterms coming up, Marré told Breitbart News that they would be looking for similar statements to failed Virginia gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe’s, where he said “I don’t think parents should be telling schools what they should teach” — a remark many believe ultimately led to his loss on Election Day.
Marré said the reason FTL Action took out ad buys across Virginia is because McAuliffe “made his public policy position on this very clear … and that statement is in direct conflict with what our organization hopes to achieve, which is academic, not activism, focused education. … And so that’s the kind of stuff that we will be watching for is that intersection between public policy as it pertains to education, and the parents that we’re hearing from all over the country. You know, we’re a parent driven organization, so if we’re hearing about, you know, a ton of really horrible examples in Wyoming, or Arizona, or whatever it is, you know, that’s where we’re going to investigate and kind of focus in on.”
McAuliffe’s statement “really ignited people” because it was a policy position that “goes back to removing parental rights and questioning that they have their children’s best interest at heart. … So that’s when people get extremely frustrated and worried when they hear those types of comments.”
“When parents see all this activist driven stuff that’s coming home, they’re angry on five fronts, you know, they’re angry because their kids are being told that their parents don’t have their best interest at heart,” she continued. “They’re angry, because the school is just coming between them; they’re angry because their kids aren’t achieving in the way that they expect them to when they go to school, and they’re not learning what they should be learning.”
“I don’t think anyone should be coming between a parent and their child, and undermining that relationship and that trust, and that is what we hear time and time again from parents,” Marré said. “The government is not a co-parent.”