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Call them racist? Teachers union worked with feds to neutralize parents with concerns about CRT

Blacks and Latinos more concerned than Biden voters about politicized classrooms, lack of parental say, according to Democratic report prepared for American Federation of Teachers. Strong resistance to gender ID without parental approval.

Published: May 14, 2024 11:04pm

Republican nominee Glenn Youngkin's gubernatorial victory in Virginia in November 2021, widely credited to his promise to restore parental rights in public schools in the Democratic-leaning state, set off panic in the national education establishment.

Newly disclosed records reveal the American Federation of Teachers hired a prominent Democratic pollster the following month to survey parents and devise messaging to shore up AFT's weaknesses – particularly by tarring dissenting parents as racists – and shared it with a senior Department of Education official.

Deputy Assistant Secretary Montserrat Garibay, who came to the feds from the Texas chapter of the AFL-CIO, which counts AFT as an affiliate, is all over the first two-thirds of the 416-page Freedom of Information Act production.

It was obtained by the government watchdog Functional Government Initiative through a lawsuit filed against the department nearly two years ago.

"FYI," Garibay wrote in forwarding an email Dec. 13, 2021 from an AFT government affairs staffer, about the group's New Hampshire affiliate's lawsuit against the state for its "divisive concepts" law, to department colleagues including Office for Civil Rights Director Catherine Lhamon.

The AFT email says the "Koch-funded Moms for Liberty 'bounties' on teachers and the right-wing echo chamber of hate are creating a frightening environment for educators," who are "receiving unprecedented amounts of threats and ugly messages."

FGI, which has previously exposed federal-Twitter election collaboration, "dark money" influence at the Department of the Interior and President Biden's former COVID adviser scolding the CDC for overstating mask protection, sought "emails (with attachments), calendar items, text messages, memos and virtual meeting logs" that include "critical race theory" or "CRT." 

FGI Communications Director Pete McGinnis told Just the News the group received the batch in December 2023 but took until this week to fully analyze it. 

He wrote in a statement "the gulf between the education establishment and parents has never been greater, and it shows in the antagonistic language featured in these records," which illustrate that "the Education Department seems to be in a bunker with like-minded teachers’ unions and academics."

The court docket shows the feds have continued making document dumps, including 165 pages since a Feb. 26 joint status report, according to the latest update from the parties April 26. McGinnis said FGI is currently analyzing that batch.

U.S. District Judge Amit Mehta, who is overseeing several cases with national implications for free speech, Big Tech and federalism, ordered the parties to turn over the next joint report by June 25.

Lake Research Partners, founded by Democratic pollster Celinda Lake, conducted online focus groups with five demographics Dec. 1–2, 2021, "before the current Omicron surge and its implication of potential school closures," it told AFT in a Jan. 7, 2022, memo.

They were "white non-college suburban mothers, white moderate to conservative Democratic suburban fathers, White college suburban mothers, Latinx parents, and Black parents" – "no more than 2 participants in any group from the same state" – with kids in K-12 public schools.

The firm followed with an online national survey of "1,308 registered voters who are parents of K-12 public school students" Dec. 15-22, 2021.

The purpose of the focus groups included "show[ing] parents that teachers and teachers unions share their same goal" and "respond[ing] to the emerging 'parents' rights' narrative that the right-wing has begun to deploy with an eye toward the 2022 elections," the memo said.

Garibay forwarded the memo and the "poll deck" Jan. 13, 2022, to Donna Harris-Aikens, deputy chief of staff for strategy to Secretary Miguel Cardona, and then-Cardona senior adviser Christian Rhodes.

"Beth [Antunez, AFT deputy director] shared that they can give us a briefing as well," Garibay wrote.

The poll deck emphasized the survey respondents were "very satisfied" with how their schools handled COVID-19 "and rejected the claim that schools waited too long to resume in-person instruction," with a plurality saying schools struck a "good balance."

"Teachers unions are seen as a more positive force in education than before the pandemic," it said. "Parents have a progressive education agenda, focused on inadequate school funding, students falling behind academically and socially, low pay for teachers, and staff shortages."

AFT faces warning signs on fears of teachers politicizing their classrooms, especially "the way issues of race and gender are taught today (as they perceive it)," and parents wanting "a voice in what their children learn," with "many reject[ing] the idea that educators' expertise should always outweigh parents' perspective," the deck says. 

"Parents do not think that teachers should bring politics into the classroom, and many think that talking about race, racism, and gender identity is inherently political," which is "the other side's most powerful framing," it says.

About a quarter of parents gave "somewhat" or "not that satisfied" answers on questions of politicized classrooms and parental say in curriculum. 

Phrased differently, 72% of Donald Trump voters said they were "very" or "fairly concerned" about teachers injecting their politics, followed by Latino (67%), white (61%) and black (57%), compared to 50% for Joe Biden voters. 

The gap between minorities and Biden voters was even more stark on parental say. Latinos matched Trump voters on concern (69%), followed by black (59%) and white (57%), compared to 48% of Biden voters. 

The focus groups showed parents differed little in their concerns by race, with many agreeing that "teachers bring their own political viewpoints into the classroom" inappropriately. The deck said the "desire for greater parental involvement … has been exacerbated by the physical restrictions caused by COVID-19," especially in the black group.

Minorities again outpaced Biden voters in their concerns about "White students being shamed over issues of race and racism" – black 50%, Latino 57%, Biden voters 47% – and "Students being taught that America is a racist country" (48%, 57%, 42%). The deck emphasizes white parents felt these concerns most strongly.

The section on "Key Message Recommendations" may raise the most eyebrows. "'Critical race theory' has been successfully defined by our opponents, and many parents are also uncomfortable with the idea of teaching 'systemic racism' or 'white privilege,'" it says.

That's why AFT should go on the attack: "Expose and define your opponents' real agenda," which is about "prevent[ing] students from learning all of American history, both the good and bad," keeping "students of color and their families … invisible in history" and "trying to divide our community to advance their political agenda."

A section titled "Dealing with Right Wing Attacks" tells AFT to tread cautiously. When CRT comes up, the conversations "activate strong feelings for many of these parents who … add racism to the trope of subjects that polite conversation should avoid (religion, politics ... and racism)," though black and Latino parents prefer more representation of their history.

While "most people are not paying attention to rules that target transgender young people such as bathroom and sports bans," the subject is a minefield for AFT, the report says, even as it describes parents with qualms as displaying "varying degrees of transphobia."

"Black parents want their child's teachers to ask for their permission before they have conversations about these topics with their children" because teachers "may have different perspectives and motivations than themselves," it says. "Parents feel that some of these topics are not 'age-appropriate' for their children and should be left to be taught at home."

"My daughter for the first time has a transgendered teacher," a black parent complained. "And next thing I know, she came home and told me about all the different flags of transgenders." A Latino parent was even more strident: "They should definitely separate transgender students from all the regular students because they're going to ask for a special treatment."

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