Last week, two school board members for the Johnston Community School District sparked controversy when they were spotted at a local meeting for Turning Point USA, a far-right student organization founded by Charlie Kirk, which maintains watchlists for college professors and school board members. A photo of elected officials posing with a student holding a sign suggesting that teachers don’t love their country drew particular ire from some online.
At Johnston’s Monday night school board meeting, several parents went to the podium to express their concern about board members Deb Davis and Clint Evans being at the meeting.
One speaker, Kevin OConnor, gave some background about the group, including its watchlists, which collects names of professors and school board members that often directs harassment their way.
“It’s unacceptable that these two board members have aligned themselves with an organization that has dedicated themselves to attacking school board members and teachers by setting up these types of websites and issuing promotional materials with slogans like, ‘No matter what my teacher says, I’ll always love America,’” he said, referring to the sign in the photo.
The organization frequently paints teachers as being unpatriotic. On the group’s school board watchlist, it wrote: “America’s classrooms are under attack. The radical Left has placed K-12 students in the crosshairs of their attempt to indoctrinate future generations and fundamentally transform this country.”
Turning Point USA pushes the lie that critical race theory, a legal framework, is taught in public K-12 schools, that diversity trainings are discriminatory, and criticizes sports teams changing their names because of racist imagery or sources.
OConnor also pointed to the bigoted messaging the group puts out.
“Just last week the organization, not a member of the organization, but the organization, put on Facebook a post that said ‘minorities have more privileges than white people in America,’” he said. “This organization is a racist organization, it has bigoted members in this organization, and it’s unacceptable when board members promote to our students these ideals. I find it repulsive.”
Another parent, Andrea McIlwee, read the oath and code of ethics statements the board members promised to uphold.
“You took an oath and are bound by the code of ethics and I find it disturbing and, quite frankly, a conflict of interest to see board members attending an event organized by Turning Point USA as active participants. Is it appropriate to be part of an organization that openly attacks public teachers?” she said.
Ann Smith took the podium to read anonymous statements from teachers at Johnston who she knows.
“To see two of our Johnston school board members support a group, Turning Point USA, pushing the agenda that we, public school teachers, are unpatriotic, socialist indoctrinators is not only beyond the pale, but it’s genuinely hurtful,” she read. “When the board is wondering very soon why talented teachers are leaving not only our schools but the field of teaching altogether, you can look back and draw a straight line from this sort of rhetoric that TP USA pushes, to that consequence.”
Aurora Deuw said she wouldn’t repeat all the reasons why Turning Point USA concerns her as an organization, but she did criticize the board members—Davis and Clint—who were involved with that meeting.
“It would be unethical for a school board member to be involved with that as they are to be nonpartisan and nonpolitical,” she said. “In addition, if this group were to be sanctioned and part of our district, I have very serious concerns for my children and all children of color in our district.”
One parent at the start of the meeting did express her happiness for a local chapter of Turning Point USA coming to Johnston.
“I personally know students who tried to attend the current political club that is at the high school, and they were not inclusive of them because they had different views, so I think it’s more inclusive that we’re getting this political group so everybody has a place to share their beliefs,” Carin Birt said.
by Nikoel Hytrek