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Anti-critical race theory focus fails in Wisconsin school board recall election
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2021 ELECTIONS | SCHOOL BOARDS

Anti-critical race theory focus fails in Wisconsin school board recall election

Culture wars schools Mequon-Thiensville

Kimberly Klimek, with daughter Lily, signs a petition Aug. 23 to recall the entire Mequon-Thiensville school board in Mequon.

MISSION, Kan. — Several high-profile school board candidates who fought COVID-19 restrictions and anti-racism classes lost their election bids Tuesday, while the Republican candidate for Virginia governor won after making education a key part of his campaign.

The defeats in Wisconsin, Minnesota and Connecticut came as voters weighed in on dozens of races that were dominated by debates over masks, vaccines, race and history. Their choices will help decide not just local policies but also whether the education battle has staying power and becomes a rallying issue for Republicans in the 2022 midterms.

Video of dad, daughter speaking out against critical race theory goes viral

Conservatives have eagerly taken up the cause as they look to move past the coronavirus pandemic and to reframe the discussion on racial injustice in America as a rewriting of history.

The political tracking website Ballotpedia identified 76 school districts in 22 states where candidates took a stance on race in education or critical race theory, which holds that racism is systemic in America’s institutions. The National School Boards Association says it is not taught in K-12 public schools.

Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, accused the right wing of orchestrating protests to “turn schools into battlegrounds.” She cited Republican Glenn Youngkin, who won the Virginia governor’s race after seizing on conservatives’ frustrations with schools, as an example.

“Families drained by COVID and its effect on their kids were at the center of a political firestorm meant to distract from our shared goals of creating good jobs and an economy that works for all,” she said.

But Tina Descovich, a co-founder of Moms for Liberty, a Melbourne, Florida-based group, whose 142 chapters in 35 states have fought vaccine and mask mandates, said the power of parents was on full display in the race.

“We anticipate seeing the same effects throughout the 2022 midterm cycle,” Descovich said. “Parents are engaged and are seeking elected officials at all levels of government who respect their right to direct the education, upbringing and care of their children.”

Former Vice President Mike Pence also got into the game, taking a moment during a campaign rally Saturday in Ohio to urge voters to support conservative school board candidates. But conservative-backed candidates for a dozen suburban Cleveland school boards were generally falling behind, unofficial results showed.

In pockets across the country, other school board challenges failed.

In Wisconsin

In Wisconsin, four members of the Mequon-Thiensville School Board held off a recall challenge that cost anti-critical race theory backers nearly $50,000.

Each of the incumbents won over 58% of the votes in their races, according to unofficial results posted by the district Tuesday.

The school board members who survived the recall effort that garnered national attention were looking ahead Wednesday to reuniting voters after a divisive campaign.

One of the four incumbents, Chris Schultz, said board members will need to “find ways to heal our community and heal from this process.”

“We need to bring everybody together and make sure everybody knows that they are heard, and that we value everybody’s opinion,” Schultz said.

Recall organizers had pushed the message that academic achievement was declining in the district, arguing that the district’s pandemic safety measures and commitments to equity were contributing to that decline, the Journal Sentinel reported.

Standardized test scores have declined statewide over the past two years as the coronavirus pandemic disrupted classroom learning.

Megan Kuehn said the recall group’s messaging wasn’t clear “on what they stood for.”

“If it was about academic performance, we could have handled this in a more constructive way instead of wasting taxpayer’s money on a recall election in the middle of everything,” Kuehn said.

Other states

In Minnesota, three conservative candidates failed to win a seat on the board in Wayzata. They ran on a “Vote for Three!” platform that denounces “harmful ideologies like CRT,” political indoctrination and “controversial medical mandates.”

In Connecticut, a slate of five five candidates opposed to critical race theory lost the board of education race in the Guilford school system, where a racial reckoning began years ago, first with an episode in which a student wore blackface to a home football game, followed by a fraught debate over the elimination of its mascot, the Indians.

Parents for Guilford Students, which backed the losing candidates, posted on Facebook: “Our five republican candidates lost the BOE election.” But, the post said, “those that lost the most are the dear children of Guilford.”

In Colorado, early results showed anti-mask candidate Schumé Navarro trailing in her bid for a seat on the Cherry Creek School District. The mother of three went to court last month to win the right to attend a district candidate event without a face mask, arguing that she cannot wear one because of abuse she suffered as a child.

“The environment and the culture that it’s creating is just stealing from our kids,” she said of masks.

However, the fight against diversity education resonated in the school board race in the Carroll Independent School District in Southlake, Texas, where Andrew Yeager won on Tuesday night. He was backed by a political action committee that opposes a diversity and equality plan created after a video of students chanting a racial slur began circulating online three years ago. A temporary restraining order has blocked the plan.

‘Patriotic education’

1776 Action, a group inspired by former President Donald Trump’s now-disbanded 1776 Commission that played down America’s role in slavery, urged candidates to sign a pledge calling for the restoration of “honest, patriotic education.” At least 300 candidates and elected officials did so, said Adam Waldeck, the group’s president.

Waldeck said his group also sent out mailers and targeted text messages in races in Johnston, Iowa, where three candidates have signed the pledge, and in West Chester, Pennsylvania, where law enforcement was called to investigate threats against school board President Chris McCune.

The backlash stems from his ordering the removal from a July meeting of a parent who kept demanding information about critical race theory after her two-minute time limit had ended. McCune, who is on track to retain his seat, wrote in a letter to the Daily Local News newspaper in Pennsylvania that it is his duty to “maintain order” and insisted that the district doesn’t even teach critical race theory.

“National and local political forces continue to urge residents to rally against local school boards and CRT, even when board members and administrators have offered to meet to share the district’s curriculum to demonstrate that it is simply not what we teach,” McCune said.

In Iowa, masking opponent Sarah Barthole won election to the Ankeny School Board in suburban Des Moines after receiving a high-profile endorsement from Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds. Barthole worked with Reynolds last year to reopen schools and is credited with inspiring the state’s now-blocked law prohibiting mask mandates in schools.

Laura Zorc, who leads the Washington, D.C.-based conservative group Freedom Works’ education initiative, said she was heartened by the showing in Douglas County, Colorado, where a conservative slate of four candidates appeared poised to unseat incumbents. The board has been under fire for suing the county health department to uphold the district’s mask mandate.

“School board races, for way too long, have been overlooked,” Zorc said, adding that the pandemic changed everything. “It really brought a lot of attention to these races, and that’s why I think we’re seeing the sweep that we have.”

Thompson reported from Buffalo, New York. Associated Press writers Julie Carr Smyth in Columbus, Ohio, and Scott McFetridge in Des Moines, Iowa, contributed to this report.

Year in review: The top Madison-area stories of 2020

It started out well enough. The Badgers were making a late-in-coming run at the Final Four. Hometown insurance behemoth American Family announced it was boosting its starting minimum wage to $20 an hour. Madison East Siders welcomed a new Pinney branch library.

The first two and a half months of the year feel like a different era, when news of a strange new virus infecting people in China was safely tucked away in the back pages of the newspaper and the heart-breaking images of a white Minneapolis police officer kneeling on the neck of a 46-year-old Black man had yet to go viral.

Then came March and successive waves of closures, cancellations, lockdowns, furloughs, layoffs, infections and deaths. If the subsequent uprisings over the killing of George Floyd weren't enough to remind America that it has plenty of work to do to overcome racism, the shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha tragically emphasized the point. And a divisive presidential election carried the tone of the year at the end.

While it may not be a year to look back on with particular fondness, 2020 no doubt is one to remember. Here's a look back at some of the top stories in the Madison area as they occurred.

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It marked the fourth consecutive loss in the Rose Bowl for UW, and the first time since 2013 that the program lost its final two games of the year.

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Madison police spokesman Joel DeSpain said Sunday the victim who officers found in an apartment at 1905 McKenna Blvd. shortly after 2:30 p.m. Saturday was a 20-year-old African American male.

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With the Green Bay defense failing to lay a hand on 49ers running back Raheem Mostert for much of the first half and the Aaron Rodgers-led offense committing two turnovers and failing to convert a third down yet again during a scoreless first 30 minutes, the Packers dug themselves a 27-0 halftime deficit on their way to a demoralizing 37-20 loss.

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Gutierrez, superintendent of the school district in Seguin, Texas, was announced Friday as the Madison School Board's pick to lead the district.

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The person returned to Dane County Regional Airport after a trip to Beijing Jan. 30 and went directly to UW Hospital's emergency room, officials said.

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This weekend's performances at the Alliant Energy Center will be the last with elephants in Dane County as a contract between the circus and the venue expires. 

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Tony Evers said he vetoed the legislation, which uses surplus revenue, because it doesn't invest in the state's schools. 

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Despite no Wisconsin cheeses finishing in the final top three, state producers dominated the competition, earning 45 gold medals out of 132 categories.

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This decision is unprecedented for Wisconsin's largest university and taken to slow the spread of COVID-19 coronavirus.

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The closure order, to take effect no later than 5 p.m. on March 18, affects nearly 1 million Wisconsin children in grades K-12 in public and private schools.

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One was a man in his 50s from Fond du Lac County; the other was a man in his 90s from Ozaukee County.

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David A. Kahl, 53, is charged with first-degree intentional homicide.

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Tony Evers’ “safer at home” order represents a shift from the governor's position last week, when he said he did not plan on issuing such an order.

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Most voting locations saw few lines and smooth operations. But other places, notably Milwaukee, experienced significant delays, chaos and conditions that made it impossible for some voters to cast a ballot.

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Jill Karofsky's win over Dan Kelly cuts the court's conservative majority to 4-3, giving liberals a chance to take back control in 2023.

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The U.S. Air Force announced the final selection of the Wisconsin Air National Guard’s 115th Fighter Wing, capping more than three years of study and deep community division over the planes, which come with the promise of jobs and new construction but also noise and pollution.

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While applauded as a good first step, Democratic members, as well as public safety and health officials, have criticized the bill for not allocating more state funding to respond to the pandemic.

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For 30 years, "Ms. Milele" was the publisher of UMOJA magazine and a prominent leader in Madison's black community. She was "short in stature but mighty in force." 

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Free community testing for COVID-19 started at the Alliant Energy Center in Madison on Monday morning.

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Gov. Tony Evers and legislative Republicans will need to work quickly to come up with a replacement plan.

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The Vilas Zoo, Goodman Pool, beaches and movie theaters are among the places not opening yet.

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There were signs early Sunday that the violence was spreading into other parts of the city.

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"It’s clear they have important process issues to work out," the candidate said.

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School Board President Gloria Reyes said the decision to pull police from Madison's four main high schools is effective immediately. 

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The Madison School Board chose Carlton Jenkins, a superintendent of a suburban Twin Cities school district, over another finalist for the job. He starts Aug. 4.

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As a Dane County public health order requiring face coverings in all indoor spaces outside the home took effect Monday, businesses offered mixed views on mandates, though for many retailers it was business as (the new) usual.

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There was no update on the second victim from the shooting at Schroeder Road and Chapel Hill Road Saturday night. 

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Travis M. Christianson, 44, is tentatively charged with first-degree intentional homicide.

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Republican President Donald Trump also has caused controversy for saying he might deliver acceptance speech at White House.

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The girl was in a car that was struck by gunfire late Tuesday morning on East Washington Avenue.

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The conference decided — after meetings between presidents and athletic directors, and outcry from players, coaches, politicians and fans — to cancel the fall sports season and will attempt to move football to the spring semester.

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"The video that came out of Kenosha is absolutely horrific. I don’t understand how people can watch it and not be here," one Madison protester said. 

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The fifth-seeded Heat finished off an upset of the NBA’s best regular-season team Tuesday, topping the Milwaukee Bucks 103-94 in Game 5 of their East semifinal series — while Giannis Antetokounmpo, the league’s reigning MVP, couldn’t play because of a sprained right ankle.

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UW-Madison is pausing in-person instruction for at least two weeks and quarantining more than 2,200 students living in two dorms.

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Police are not recommending charges against Althea Bernstein, saying there is a difference between someone trying to deceive law enforcement and not being able to corroborate a report of a crime.

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The alternate care facility at State Fair Park in West Allis may begin taking patients Thursday.

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A small crowd Downtown Saturday morning before the race was called turned into hundreds of people honking horns, cheering and waving signs after Biden was declared the winner, while some Trump supporters turned out in protest.

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"We understand the eyes of the world will be on these Wisconsin counties over the next few weeks,"  Wisconsin Elections Commission administrator Meagan Wolfe said.

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St. Mary's and Meriter expect to get vaccine soon.

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The flurry of activity caps off a tumultuous post-election saga in Wisconsin that has now concluded.

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A look back at the year 2020 through the lens of Wisconsin State Journal photographers John Hart, Amber Arnold and Steve Apps

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