Gwinnett mom: Call our demands domestic terrorism, but we won’t go away

Scores of audience members refused to wear masks or leave the Gwinnett County Board of Education meeting Thursday, May 20, 2021.
Scores of audience members refused to wear masks or leave the Gwinnett County Board of Education meeting Thursday, May 20, 2021.

Credit: Alia Malik

Parent says school board is attempting to stifle legitimate community input

Sheri Mitchell is the parent of two Gwinnett County Public Schools students. When Gwinnett schools decided to remain online in the spring of 2020, she founded a group called Concerned Parents of Gwinnett County to push for a return to face-to-face classes. The group also supports letting parents choose whether their children wear masks in school.

In a guest column today, Mitchell defends the ongoing parent protests in Gwinnett over critical race theory and masks, including a highly publicized incident in May where 100 people at a school board meeting refused to wear masks or leave. The meeting was suspended, and school police broke up two escalating verbal confrontations between audience members.

By Sheri Mitchell

COVID-19 has had many unintended consequences. As parents across the country sat with their children to do schoolwork, they learned what was being taught and many did not like what they saw. They became aware of curricula around critical race theory being spread throughout K-12 education.

In Gwinnett County, parents are flooding school board meetings to share their opinions, some nicely and respectfully, some passionately and some angry, all demanding accountability. The district has told parents it is not teaching critical race theory, but the tenets and the push to see students as either oppressed or oppressors are cropping up in classrooms. And parents are noticing.

This level of parent interaction is not something that most communities have experienced in the past. The National School Boards Association is calling for the Biden administration to have the Department of Justice investigate us parents as domestic terrorists and hate crime perpetrators. What is the difference between accountability and harassment? {Editor’s note: The National Schools Boards Association walked back its letter to the Biden administration, saying in a later statement “we regret and apologize for the letter.” However, the association did not what clarify what language it regretted using. Nor did it say it no longer was seeking federal assistance. }

Sheri Mitchell

Credit: Submitted

Sheri Mitchell
Sheri Mitchell

Credit: Submitted

Credit: Submitted

The May meeting of the Gwinnett Board of Education was an example in the federal complaint about parent behaviors at board meetings. There were about 100 parents refusing to wear masks. They were peaceful protesters. When parents tell boards their actions in mandating masks are not acceptable, we become the opposition. The five school board representatives that were voted in by the public in Gwinnett had the power to change the mask rule but dug in.

I call this civil disobedience, not domestic terrorism. Masks came up again at an October meeting. One of the parents refused to wear a mask, so the board shut the meeting down. We were told a couple of the school board members left so there was no longer the required quorum. They don’t like what the public does, so they leave the building. Meeting over. This is a blatant abuse of power.

When parents tell them their actions or curriculum are unacceptable, do they take it as a threat? When parents tell them we will vote them out, do they take it as a threat? This is beyond the efforts of cancel culture, it is censorship.

Prior to COVID-19, most of us parents were distracted by raising and providing for our families. We didn’t understand the power the school board held in our communities. Most people didn’t know who their representatives were. If you were a Republican or a Democrat, you voted for that person, not really knowing that much about them. The school board members should not represent a party once elected. They should represent what is best for the children.

I choose to live in Gwinnett County. I could easily move somewhere else. I like when I drop my kids off at school, it looks like a meeting at the United Nations. When I look out my window, my neighbor to the left is Korean, to the right Indian, across the street white and, to the left of her, African American. I’m committed to this diverse community and making it better.

To put the massive wave of parental involvement in Gwinnett County into perspective, in June of 2020, I first spoke at a school board meeting with 19 others. This was at the height of the pandemic, and they would call you on the phone to let you speak your three minutes if you didn’t want to appear in person. They went out of the way to hear from you back then.

During the COVID-19 lockdown is when parents’ involvement began to increase. Classes had gone online, and people were starting to take notice of their children’s struggles with remote learning. In September of 2020, there were 36 speakers. By January of 2021, there were 62 speakers.

Gwinnett County has approximately 180,000 students. We have a new superintendent, Calvin J. Watts, who was the sole finalist. He is in charge of a $2.4 billion total budget. Gwinnett County also received $282.4 million from the federal American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 in COVID-19 relief funds.

As the largest school district in Georgia, we would like accountability for how that money is spent and how our schools operate. We want to be heard.

Call our demands domestic terrorism, but we will not go away. We are watching and expect accountability. As long as you are making decisions for our children, we expect transparency and accountability.

Many of us don’t want critical race theory in our schools. Former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice denounced the teaching of CRT and declared that Black children could be empowered without making white children feel bad for their race.

Race is certainly a factor, and should be discussed and learned from in our community, but CRT is not the answer. CRT separates us and pits us against one another. It is designed to divide, not unite. It is the opposite of what the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. taught. We cannot let this influence be indoctrinated in our schools, which is why parents are showing up at school board meetings in Gwinnett and across America.

In response to this surge of upset parents, the Gwinnett board started limiting the number of speakers. Another cancel culture attempt. What governing body wouldn’t want to hear from the public and have involved parents?

We, the parents of Gwinnett County, are here to stay. When the time comes, we will vote these radical elitists out of office.

Is that a threat?

No, that’s a promise.

The author of this guest column, Sheri Mitchell, is a parent of two Gwinnett County students.

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