WAUKESHA, Wis. — The banquet hall buzzed with impassioned chatter as parents, friends, first-time school board candidates, and other locals congregated for a Saturday morning town hall that felt more like a strategy session. After two major public school districts, Milwaukee and Madison, shut down yet again and blamed COVID, parents were fired up.
Talk of critical race theory, leftist administrators, mask mandates, and school shutdowns hummed through conversations with the kind of first-hand animation that could propel once-complacent Wisconsin parents into a movement of activists capable of unleashing an unquenchable red wave in the Dairy State. They saw what happened in Virginia, and now they want to bring it home.
Former Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch, who’s now running to unseat Democrat Gov. Tony Evers in November, organized the event. Although Kleefisch is in campaign mode, the overarching energy of the gathering wasn’t as much, “Help get me elected,” as it was, “How can we get more of you elected?”
Calling All Parents
“We need more parent activists. This is that important,” Kleefisch said while moderating a panel of concerned moms-turned-activists.
One of those moms was Scarlett Johnson, a mother of five who, after discovering the apathy in the Mequon-Thiensville School Board, decided she needed to run for a seat.
“We just started paying closer attention,” Johnson said to the room of eager fellow parents. “I hadn’t attended school board meetings. I vote, but I never voted for a school board candidate.”
But that all changed this last year. Johnson said she and a group of other moms started getting together and doing their research. When they did, they found toxic racial propaganda in their kids’ classrooms, such as teachers assigning books like Robin DiAngelo’s “White Fragility.”
The moms started making phone calls and sending emails to school officials. “It started a movement,” Johnson said.
In the course of her run for school board, Johnson said she’s been called a white supremacist and received death threats, but noted, “I’m still here, I’m still fighting.”
No Room for Apathy
Parents aren’t just fired up about nefarious actors in the school systems, however. They’re also on the lookout for complacent school board members and district officials. Another mom on the panel, Alyssa Pallow, is getting involved simply because her school board doesn’t seem to really know anything about dangerous ideologies such as critical race theory.
Kleefisch agreed, stressing to parents that they don’t have to wait to get involved until one of their kids cracks a textbook or assignment that makes their jaw drop open. “It can be that you’re horrified by the apathy,” Kleefisch said.
“It snowballs,” said another mom, Amber Schroeder, regarding parent activism. “You will inspire people to get involved.” Schroeder and Johnson worked together in the Mequon-Thiensville district to organize a recall election of four school board members.
“People are afraid to do it alone,” Schroeder continued. “Once you realize you’re not alone, a lot more people get involved. … If you build it, they will come.”
A Time for Choosing
Other parents have been shocked to watch their children become casualties in the left’s Covid crackdowns. Mattie Allen stressed the importance of school choice after her kids had a horrible academic year due to lockdowns.
Allen’s son spent his first year in school doing it virtually, “which was horrendous,” she said. Her daughter spent one year at Milwaukee Public Schools, where her GPA plummeted, and it was “one of the worst years.” Thanks to school choice, they’re now in a charter school with just one grade per class.
“Their school is so open, and I love it,” Allen said, noting that her daughter’s GPA is back up, she’s on the honor roll, and she’s playing volleyball.
But some families aren’t so fortunate. One of Allen’s friends who is stuck with her kids in Milwaukee Public Schools is watching the district once again shut down. This single mom has a first-grader and a third-grader, meaning she had to switch to third shift just so she could fulfill the roles of both teacher and provider.
She’s “up all day, up all night,” Allen said, getting choked up. “How do we give all moms that [school choice] option?”
Maggie Vinopal, a mom in the Eau Claire school district, has also had enough with the COVID madness, saying school officials are weaponizing Statute 252, a state quarantine law, to punish and quarantine unvaccinated kids.
Her healthy seventh-grade daughter has been quarantined four different times for a total of 14 schools days, despite coronavirus posing almost zero risk of severity to healthy children. Anyone who tests positive for COVID-19 is required to “isolate,” Vinopal told The Federalist. But when students come into contact with a positive case, only the unvaccinated have to “quarantine,” despite the ability of the vaccinated to contract and spread COVID.
On the very first day of school, Vinopal’s daughter was seated at the same lunch table as a vaccinated student who later tested positive and had to isolate. While the vaccinated students at the table were allowed to proceed as normal, Vinopal’s daughter was required to quarantine and provide proof of a negative test.
Jumping in the Ring
Covid nonsense like this is what inspired people like first-time Waukesha School Board member Kelly Piacsek to run.
When a number of people decided to “abuse our children in the name of science, I got really mad,” said Piacsek, who is now known for holding firm on a decision to end a harmful federally-funded school lunch program in the face of vicious and dishonest attacks. “That’s what motivated me.”
Running for school board is “absolutely worth it,” she told parents. “We’ve got to take this on because we have a front-row seat to the consequences.”
Piacsek inspired people like Slinger parent Bill Brewer to run for his school board. Brewer, a veteran, has lived in Slinger for approximately 18 years. He coaches youth football there and is now involved in the league’s leadership. But the school board’s apathy and lack of urgency against dangerous ideologies have prompted him to get involved.
“Marxism doesn’t come and punch you in the face in round one. It creeps in,” Brewer said.
“I just can’t have that, not for my community, not for these kids. They deserve better.”
Brewer said his strategy isn’t so much a campaign “as a giant, three-month listening tour.”
“Once I get elected, that’s not going to stop,” Brewer said.
That seems to be the Kleefisch campaign strategy too. Rather than spending two hours rattling off campaign promises, the gubernatorial candidate opened the floor on Saturday for parents to voice their concerns and asked attendees to fill out cards with the top three issues that matter to them to help guide her policy.
That’s more than these weary parents have gotten from Evers, who has worked to keep parents in the dark. In December, the governor — who was the state superintendent of public instruction for a decade — vetoed education transparency legislation that would have required districts to publish classroom materials online.
“We need you to be successful and aggressive,” Kleefisch rallied, encouraging the parents fighting in local races. If the energy in the Waukesha banquet hall was any indication, these parents won’t have any problem with that.