Conservatives Infiltrate School Board Races in Silicon Valley
The Silicon Valley school board races have become the focus of a local right-wing group, and pundits and school officials fear the results could become politically polarizing.
The infiltration of far-right candidates into local school board races could impact the curricula and day-to-day governance of districts.
The Republican Women’s Association of Silicon Valley is recruiting and preparing a slate of school board candidates for the November ballot. The effort is part of a nationwide movement to get more conservative voices heard in shortlist seats.
Dozens of candidates are running in more than 30 school board races in districts that serve hundreds of thousands of students. If elected, board members will be responsible for millions of dollars in funding and addressing issues such as school safety and campus policing, as well as education disparity and the teachers’ accommodation.
Recruitment and training by the Republican Women’s Association of Silicon Valley began when the group held meetings with potential candidates over the summer, said Jan Soule, president and co-founder. The group has even helped school board candidates file paperwork, launch campaigns and lobby for donations.
There are at least 13 school board members and candidates who align with far-right values, according to a San Jose Spotlight analysis, and have been endorsed by the GOP Women’s Association. This is the highest number of candidates the group has ever approved.
The group opposes critical race theory, which examines racism in systems and communities throughout history, and comprehensive sex education, its website says.
“We have to find a balance in the school boards,” Soule told San José Spotlight. “It was the impetus to start looking around, see if anyone was interested in racing.”
The goal is to have school boards that respond to the voices of parents, Soule said, especially those with conservative values.
“We believe that children belong to their parents. They don’t belong in the school,” Soule told San José Spotlight. “It’s not a Republican thing. It’s not a Democratic thing. It’s a family thing.
A larger movement
The flood of conservative candidates in educational races is a national and statewide movement.
The California Republican Party launched its “Parent Revolt” program ahead of this year’s election cycle, providing step-by-step strategies and guidance for conservative school board candidates. The race for superintendent of public instruction — the state’s top elected education official — has been rich in discussion on issues including book bans, sex education and COVID-19 measures like masking.
The effects of national and state politics reverberate, and political polarization is now being felt at the local level.
“Sixty percent of parents thought national politics and issues not relevant to their communities negatively influenced school board meetings,” said Julie Marsh, a professor at the University of Southern California and co-director of the Rossier Center on Education. Policy, Equity and Governance.
Andres Macias, who is backed by the GOP women’s group, said he was running for the San Jose Unified School District Zone 2 seat because he was disappointed with the district’s academic performance and supported rights parents. Macias, a first-time candidate, was recruited by the Silicon Valley Association of Republican Women.
“I accepted the endorsement and spoke in front of their group. They were able to help me fundraise, and through that I was able to afford a ballot,” Macias told San José Spotlight He said he was also open to the Democrats’ endorsement.
Zoila Rollins, a far-right candidate running for the Union School District, said on her website that she advocates for parental oversight of textbooks and the right of parents to withdraw their children if the material does not correspond to personal values. She questions a “sex education curriculum that embraces a view of multiple genders”.
Rollins declined to comment.
Candidates for the Franklin-McKinley School District Board of Trustees, Marc Cooper and Tammy Lariz, are also backed by the Silicon Valley Association of Republican Women. Cooper argues that parents “have the right to remove their child from a curriculum that does not focus on reading, math, language and science” in his campaign materials. Both candidates could not be reached for comment.
Rudy Rodriguez, a current Franklin-McKinley board member running for re-election, said the right-wing backlash against critical race theory and ethnic studies could jeopardize district programs. Candidates with these views, he said, are dangerous to the region’s diverse community.
“I’m afraid this will mean closing our new Vietnamese dual-language immersion program as well as our recently created Spanish dual-language immersion program,” Rodriguez told San Jose Spotlight. “These types of programs, including our recent shift to the K-8 ethnic studies curriculum for our schools, are essential for our young children to learn about diversity.”
Campbell Union High School district administrator Robert Varich, a conservative candidate for re-election in November, faced backlash in 2018 following social media activity expressing transphobic, Islamophobic and far-right tendencies.
In a 2016 post, Varich retweeted material from an anti-Muslim site, including a list of alleged “Islamic terror” attacks. In another from an unidentified year, Varich retweets a post that contains transphobic, misogynistic and racist content.
Varich could not be reached for comment.
Stacey Brown, a progressive member of the Campbell Union High School District board of trustees, served three years with Varich. She said political divides aren’t new among school board members, but they often cross political lines to get things done. Brown steps down in December and is not seeking re-election.
“I’ve served with people who don’t share the same ideological views as me, (who) are on the opposite side of the political spectrum,” Brown told San Jose Spotlight. “We have a unit of purpose, which is generally a vision of how we will provide students with the outcomes our community desires.”
The success of these GOP-drafted candidates ultimately depends on the voters.
“It’s the voter’s responsibility to know who they’re voting for,” Brown told San Jose Spotlight. “Do the homework.”
Contact Loan-Anh Pham at [email protected] or follow @theLoanAnhLede on Twitter.