We have entered the “falsification of memory” phase of the American Cultural Revolution. Just last week, American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten took to X, formerly Twitter, to remind people that her organization always advocated for reopening schools. She made this proclamation from her lofty perch on the moral high ground and chided those who have a different recollection of events.
While Weingarten and others like her would prefer we all move on, let’s instead rewind the tapes and explain why that would be a mistake.
Covid Uncertainty and Absurdity
I am the kind of parent Attorney General Merrick Garland and the National School Boards Association warned you about. I live in Chester County, one of the wealthiest counties in Pennsylvania and home to at least six of the top 50 public schools in the state.
When the pandemic first hit, I took it very seriously. One of my children has asthma, so I closely followed the news out of China beginning in early January 2020. I grew so concerned about the catastrophic potential of the virus that I pulled my children out of school a week or so before the state government ordered it. But by the summer of 2020, after carefully studying the available evidence, I concluded that the virus was serious but entirely manageable for the overwhelming majority of the population, especially kids.
As that summer drew to a close, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf continued to flex dubious emergency powers. He kept churches, schools, businesses, and restaurants closed or severely restricted well into the spring of 2021. Even when kids finally returned to full in-person learning in Pennsylvania, many public schools still had mandatory masking. Some schools (like mine) even required masks when kids were engaged in athletics — outdoors.
Public officials enforced these draconian measures even as they had actual knowledge that lockdowns and masking were causing serious educational, physical, and psychological damage to children of all ages. The Unionville-Chadds Ford School District, where my four children were enrolled, demanded strict compliance with their unlawful policies over the objections of parents like me.
Forced into Politics from Private Life
Before Covid-19 invaded America, I was not politically active. In what little free time I had, I was active in my church, coached youth sports, and volunteered as a football coach at the high school. I moved my family from Wilmington, Delaware, to Unionville when our eldest daughter started elementary school because of the district’s reputation for providing a phenomenal public education. My wife and I went to public school, we have several family members who work in public education, and one of my children wants to be a teacher. We were steadfast proponents of the value of public education.
For more than 20 years, I have practiced law. My first job out of law school was as a clerk to a senior justice of the Delaware Supreme Court. I became a lawyer because I believed it was an honorable profession. Lawyers throughout our country’s brief history have played a pivotal role in everything from the Declaration of Independence to leading the fight for civil rights. I believe lawyers have a special duty to rise up when government encroaches on our liberties. This was one of those occasions.
When Unionville officials decided not to reopen schools at the beginning of the 2020-21 school year, I started attending school board meetings to voice my concern that school officials lacked the legal authority to cancel in-person classes. Then I demanded that those officials either provide my children with their statutory right to in-person education or produce a legal opinion setting forth the legal authority to deny that right. They ignored me.
As the months wore on and the damage to children deepened, I testified about the harmful consequences of unlawful policies before the education committee of the Pennsylvania State Senate, which was chaired by Republican state Sen. Scott Martin. In retrospect, state legislators used the hearing to grandstand. Neither chamber ever passed any meaningful legislation in defense of parental rights.
Fighting Mandatory Masking
At the beginning of the 2021-22 school year, Unionville officials announced that the school district would continue to enforce its mandatory masking policy. The school district enforced the mandates against the will of those who no longer wished to have their children masked and did not believe the orders were lawful. I again publicly objected to the enforcement of this policy on the basis that it violated Pennsylvania law. School officials still ignored me.
I believed so strongly that this policy was unlawful that in August 2021 I attended the first in-person school board meeting in over a year. At the meeting, I challenged the school district to produce a legal opinion setting forth the precise source of statutory authority to enforce a masking policy that was causing serious, demonstrable harm to children against the express will of many parents.
As I was speaking, the entire school board and the highly paid district superintendent walked out of the meeting rather than address or even acknowledge my legitimate concerns. Four months later, the state Supreme Court declared the masking policy void on the exact legal basis I persistently asserted for more than a year.
School District Stonewalls Citizens and Senators
I never attended another school board meeting. Instead, I chose to fight the battle by seeking public records through the Pennsylvania Right to Know Law and by writing articles on a local media website. The school district stonewalled me at every turn. To make matters worse, the school district spent tens of thousands of taxpayer dollars (my money) on legal fees concealing public records and fighting my efforts for transparency and accountability.
After being denied due process by the school district for well over a year, I sought the assistance of Martin. He was then still the majority chair of the Senate Education Committee, which supposedly has oversight responsibility for Pennsylvania public schools. After meeting with me and reviewing my complaint, Martin made inquiries on my behalf.
True to form, Unionville officials ignored him too. When, more than a month later, no one had responded, I sent a copy of the senator’s letter to the entire school board. When the superintendent and school board president finally responded, they arrogantly dismissed the senator’s inquiries and tacitly suggested he should mind his own business.
After several more months of delay and obfuscation, the senator appealed the district’s refusal to produce the records. On Dec. 9, 2022, the Pennsylvania Office of Open Records denied the senator’s request on the basis of an affidavit, submitted under penalty of perjury, that school district officials had no clue what the senator was talking about.
Parents and Public Schools Battle for Authority
Upon reading the final determination in Martin v. Unionville, I knew I had evidence conclusively demonstrating that school district officials had flagrantly ignored their duty in an official proceeding. Under state law, they were required to produce plainly responsive records that were in the possession of the superintendent, the school district solicitor, and every member of the school board. Because I was not a party to that proceeding, however, I lacked standing to intervene or appeal. Despite my pleas that state legislators do something (anything) to address this misconduct, Martin shrugged his shoulders and told me there was nothing else he could do.
If there is any question about who controls the balance of power between parents and public schools, ponder this fact. The superintendent, lawyers, and every member of the school board in my district stonewalled a state senator responsible for oversight of public schools, and there is apparently nothing he can do about it. Education interest groups obviously control the purse strings in Harrisburg, so parents like me are left hanging time and again.
Earlier this year, I submitted a complaint to the Unionville school board setting forth detailed, well-documented allegations of misconduct by school district officials. School district policy requires a “fair and impartial” review of my complaint (and the evidence supporting it), a hearing, and a written determination by the school board addressing every allegation. As of today, months after I first submitted the complaint, school board officials are still silent and ignoring their legal duties.
So much for transparency and accountability. Public school officials, from the highest level all the way down to my suburban school district, can’t be bothered with parents like me. They pay lip service to parental rights when they must, but their behavior makes it clear that they don’t really think the rules apply to them. After all, as Vice President Kamala Harris reminded us recently — our kids actually belong to the state.
School Choice, the Ultimate Covid Reckoning
Our rulers want us to move on, especially those who got everything wrong over the last few years. No one will ever hold Garland accountable for directing the FBI to monitor parents who had the audacity to speak out at school board meetings. Weingarten will avoid responsibility for the serious harm to children caused by the policies her organization aggressively advanced. Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro reneged on his campaign promise to expand school choice yet will likely seek even higher office.
Republicans in D.C., Harrisburg, and even my community aren’t much better. They promise action on education policy and pander to conservative voters every election season, but they rarely follow through.
Meanwhile, in his most recent performance evaluation, the school board’s nine members unanimously rated my district’s superintendent as “Distinguished.” The superintendent will keep his ridiculously lucrative contract and taxpayer-funded pension. The school board members will probably win reelection in a few weeks by people in my community who either don’t know or don’t care that they ignored their legal duties.
These very same public officials, from top to bottom, expect us to forget the past and blindly trust them with our children. But we cannot move on until there is a reckoning for their unlawful acts, which caused real harm to an entire generation. The path to reconciliation is through comprehensive school choice reform, but the monied interests in Washington and state capitols are doing everything they can to make sure that never happens. Silencing parental domestic terrorists like me is part of their well-funded strategy.