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Exclusive: School Board Members Accuse Wisconsin Public Schools Superintendent Of Election Meddling

Wisconsin Superintendent of the Department of Public Instruction Jill Underly being interviewed.
Image CreditPBS Wisconsin/YouTube

DPI chief Jill Underly has injected herself into local issues, campaigning for progressive candidates and propagandizing bomb threats.


Wisconsin’s leftist superintendent of education Jill Underly long ago ripped down the veneer of nonpartisanship in the state’s Department of Public Instruction (DPI).

But in recent months, the teachers union stooge has injected herself into politically charged local issues, campaigning for “progressive” candidates and using her taxpayer-funded office to propagandize a string of bomb threats to fit a false LGBT narrative.   

Now scores of school board members and candidates led by parental rights proponents in the Waukesha School District are standing up and speaking out against Underly’s political meddling. 

“That the DPI, through its highest ranking officer, would actively meddle in local elections and rebuke local school board members, should be viewed as a blatant conflict of interest that usurps the will of the electorate and runs afoul of local control,” write Waukesha School Board President Kelly Piacsek and board Vice President Anthony Zenobia in a soon-to-be-released public letter exclusively provided to The Federalist.  

As of Monday morning, 67 school board members and candidates from across the state had signed the letter excoriating Underly for election interference. 

The letter notes that the Waukesha School Board has been a “trailblazer elevating academic outcomes, parental rights and age-appropriateness over political indoctrination, divisive labeling and the sexualization of children.” In short, the conservative-led board making decisions for one of Wisconsin’s largest school districts has sinned against the left’s DEI (diversity, equity, and inclusion) god, and the state’s top education official isn’t tolerating such transgressions. 

‘Crosses the Line’

On Saturday, March 16, Underly campaigned in Waukesha for residents Stephanie Fidlin and Angelique Byrne, two of five school board candidates running for three seats in the April 2 spring election. Two of the seats are held by Piacsek and Zenobia. Eric Brooks, a fellow conservative, also is running. 

Byrne is a teacher and instructional coach in the Wauwatosa School District’s Vel R. Phillips Juvenile Justice Center School. Fidlin is a nurse and co-president of the PTO. Both are heartily endorsed by leftist group Blue Sky Waukesha, “a place for progressives, liberals, and independents” in a traditionally conservative and electorally critical Milwaukee border county. They have also received the blessings of the Democratic Party of Wisconsin and the Wisconsin Education Association (WEAC), the state teachers union. 

“Tomorrow at 10AM, @underlyforwi is kicking off a canvass in Waukesha. SDW candidates Stephanie Fidlin and Angelique Byrne also will be there. Stephanie and Angelique are focused on rebuilding trust between community members and the district,” leftist state Assembly candidate Sarah Harrison posted on social media.  

Piacsek and Zenobia said Underly’s decision to insinuate herself into Waukesha’s school board race is unprecedented. 

“I was quite shocked to hear she made her way to a Waukesha candidate’s campaign,” Piacsek told The Federalist. “I know there has been a lot of outrage over the last few years about partisan ideas in nonpartisan races, but this is a little different to me. It crosses the line of objectivity that we all expect in our state agencies to have, especially DPI.” 

With DEI-pushing Democrat Gov. Tony Evers at the helm of state government (the leftist ruled DPI before his 2018 gubernatorial election win), any delusion of partisan politics kept out of state agencies has been shattered.

Battleground for the Soul of Education 

But why is the nominally nonpartisan superintendent of Wisconsin’s Department of Public Instruction so interested in this race? Waukesha in many ways is the hill on which the soul of education is being fought in Wisconsin. As the Badger State’s seventh-largest city, Waukesha and Milwaukee’s conservative surrounding WOW counties have long played a critical role in checking the onslaught of voters in liberal bastions Milwaukee, Madison, and other leftist-heavy cities. 

Piacsek and Zenobia helped lead a revolution against liberal educrats who have pushed everything from racist critical race theory to sexualizing children and pushing pornography in public schools across the country — all in the name of far-left identity politics and power. Covid lockdowns cast a red-hot spotlight on the DEI-dominated policies of schools, and parents like Piacsek and Zenobia began fighting back and getting elected to school boards. 

With a solid majority on the Waukesha School Board, common-sense members have worked to take sexually inappropriate material out of the classrooms and libraries. They’ve removed the pride flags, plus Black Lives Matter, Blue Lives Matter, and other ideological signs and banners from the district’s schools. They have passed a parental rights and transparency resolution that in part demands, “Parents have a right to know what is being taught in their child’s classrooms …” 

Underly in ‘Rainbowland’

This move to return parental control over local public education decisions has infuriated the left and their allies in the accomplice media. Perhaps nothing better illustrates how apoplectic Democrats have gone than the ginned-up “Rainbowland” scandal. After administrators deemed inappropriate an elementary school music teacher’s request to have first-graders sing the Miley Cyrus/Dolly Parton LGBT pride anthem, a first-grade teacher blasted the decision on her Twitter account. The tweet, of course, went viral. 

“Why Rainbowland? My guess: The beautiful LYRICS. Because saying an ARTIST is controversial would be a very slippery slope and they wouldn’t want to go there. Amirite?” wrote Melissa Tempel.  

The song was a clear violation of the district’s policies, and the lyrics — including the lines “Make wrong things right (all things right), and end the fight” — are not beautiful to a lot of people.  

Administrators and the board were castigated as bigots and homophobes. Corporate media outlets wrote countless stories about the fabricated cause celebre, citing such expert sources as the Happy Hippie Foundation. The foundation, the circulation-dwindling Milwaukee Journal triumphantly reported, “pledged to donate to Pride and Less Prejudice, an organization that has sent over 8,500 LGBTQ-inclusive books to over 3,000 pre-kindergarten through third-grade classrooms.”

Tempel was placed on administrative leave and eventually lost her job. LGBT activists called for Waukesha Superintendent James Sebert to be investigated and fired, not necessarily in that order. And Tempel filed a lawsuit alleging her First Amendment rights were violated. 

Wisconsin’s politically motivated education secretary, of course, injected herself into the local matter. 

“I write today because I am deeply troubled by the harm caused as you’ve applied the School District of Waukesha’s controversial issues policy. Whether you realize it or not, you are, under the guise of protection, causing undue harm to students and staff. However, this damage is reversible. It is paramount that you change course now,” Underly wrote in a letter dated April 12, 2023, to the Waukesha School Board.

Republican state lawmakers from the area fired back with their own letter charging that Underly stepped all over local control in intervening. 

“The controversy has to do with a school district policy that seeks to keep the focus on education instead of indoctrination. In calling for a change to that policy, Superintendent Underly is violating the principle of local control of school boards,” wrote the lawmakers.

‘Regarded as Opponents’

Perhaps it shouldn’t have come as a surprise when Underly again injected herself into a Waukesha schools issue following a recent series of school bombing threats, as well as a school shooting scare. The threats, which law enforcement officials found to be from Russia and Nigeria and bogus, followed a Libs of TikTok post on X (formerly Twitter), calling out a liberal assistant principal at a Waukesha middle school. 

“Meet Jeffrey Taege. He’s an assistant principal at Butler Middle School in @waukeshaschools. He thinks parents shouldn’t have a say in their kids’ education and the community and not the parent is responsible for children’s education,” the popular conservative social media account declared. Taege has criticized the district’s parental rights policies. 

The district and the police department quickly responded and kept understandably worried middle school parents informed of the matter via multiple communications. Democrat activists turned the bogus threats into rhetorical cudgels against the district’s checks on the DEI agenda.  

As things began to quiet down in Waukesha, Underly stirred the pot again with a politically charged statement attacking Waukesha’s parental rights policies. 

“And let’s not pretend these threats are coming out of thin air. They are generated by hate, especially toward the LGBTQ+ community. We must stand up for, and stand with, every educator and every child. We can’t leave anyone behind,” Underly sneered. “These threats are based on nothing more than targeted hate. And now out-of-state hate groups are using social media to target all of us.” 

No, they’re not. But Underly, bought and paid for by the Democratic Party, wasn’t going to let the facts get in the way of a political narrative this close to the election. 

Zenobia said Underly is clearly interfering in local school board races where conservatives have had significant success in rolling back leftist indoctrination in public schools — a school board that has been an example to others across the state. 

“As I have knocked doors and talked to people in the district, the main issue I’m hearing is parental rights and getting stuff out of school that doesn’t belong there,” the school board vice president said. “It has been a big issue on the state level and [Underly and her allies] know that and are really worried Kelly and I will remain on the board in a position of leadership for another three years.”

DPI did not return The Federalist’s requests for comment. 

The letter by the school board members and candidates asks: “What is the fate of school boards like ours whose duly elected members are regarded as opponents by the top office in the Department of Public Instruction?”

“Underly should go back to Madison where there is much work to do to improve the sad state of Wisconsin’s public education system. She should stay out of school board elections and respect the authority bestowed on local school boards under WI Statutes 118.001,120.12(1) and 120.13,” the letter states. 

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