National PAC takes aim at two metro Atlanta school board races

Critical race theory is among the topics politicizing education as Georgia voters select school board candidates during the May primary elections. People who couldn’t get into an overflowing Cherokee County school board meeting on May 20, 2021, chanted “No CRT!” (Ben Gray for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Ben Gray

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Critical race theory is among the topics politicizing education as Georgia voters select school board candidates during the May primary elections. People who couldn’t get into an overflowing Cherokee County school board meeting on May 20, 2021, chanted “No CRT!” (Ben Gray for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Ben Gray

1776 Project PAC hopes to influence election outcomes in Cherokee, Coweta counties

A national political action committee’s decision to back candidates in two metro Atlanta school board elections has parents worried about an incendiary ideological fight disrupting their schools.

The New York-based 1776 Project PAC sent mailers supporting two slates of four candidates each in Cherokee and Coweta counties. The goal: take control of their boards after the May primary election. The PAC says there is a national crisis over the influence of critical race theory in schools — a college-level concept that examines racism in society and is widely known as simply CRT.

Mark Kunzman, a father of two students enrolled in Cherokee schools north of Atlanta, noted with concern a social media post by one of the four candidates backed by the conservative PAC. It talks of taking “America back” by winning myriad local elections, including city council, sheriff, local GOP seats — and school boards.

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“It’s a national effort,” he said, adding that objections to learning about diversity concern him. “This type of thing, I believe, should be taught in school and they want to whitewash all of this.”

To the south in Coweta, Scott Berta, father of four, worries about any effort to undermine faith in public schools and to encourage support for vouchers — the use of public funds for private schools.

“Why is there so much outside money for a Coweta County school board election?” he wondered.

Parent outrage over CRT proved a potent political force in Virginia, where Gov. Glenn Youngkin harnessed it to topple his Democratic opponent last year. Georgia GOP lawmakers went on to pass a slew of bills this year that mined that and other cultural concerns. Despite hours of hearings, there was no clear evidence presented that the theory was being taught in the state’s K-12 classrooms.

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Ray Lynch, part of the four-candidate Republican bloc intending to take over the already GOP-dominated seven-member Cherokee board, said he decided to run because he felt some area schools were underperforming academically. He blamed it in part on CRT and diversity training, which he sees as a divisive distraction from core academics.

The emergency medical doctor said he sent his own children, now grown, to private schools when they lived in other states where the local schools seemed inadequate. He said he supports vouchers but only as an alternative to failing schools.

“My emphasis is do a better job,” Lynch said. “Why would I sit on a board of a system I’m trying to destroy? That would be a waste of time.”

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Audience members at a Cherokee County school board meeting cheer for a speaker who advocates for removing books some deem objectionable. Members of the public voiced their opinions at the school board meeting in Canton on Thursday, April 21, 2022. (Arvin Temkar / arvin.temkar@ajc.com)

Credit: arvin.temkar@ajc.com

Audience members at a Cherokee County school board meeting cheer for a speaker who advocates for removing books some deem objectionable. Members of the public voiced their opinions at the school board meeting in Canton on Thursday, April 21, 2022.   (Arvin Temkar / arvin.temkar@ajc.com)

Credit: arvin.temkar@ajc.com

caption arrowCaption
Audience members at a Cherokee County school board meeting cheer for a speaker who advocates for removing books some deem objectionable. Members of the public voiced their opinions at the school board meeting in Canton on Thursday, April 21, 2022. (Arvin Temkar / arvin.temkar@ajc.com)

Credit: arvin.temkar@ajc.com

Credit: arvin.temkar@ajc.com

The CRT issue exploded in Georgia a year ago, when an overflow crowd packed a Cherokee school board meeting. Residents complained about the hiring of an administrator to oversee diversity and social-emotional learning initiatives. She rejected the job and speakers there have since turned their attention to obscenity, calling for book bans.

Ryan Girdusky, founder of the 1776 Project PAC, said he doesn’t support vouchers. He said he entered the fray in Cherokee and Coweta because they endorse social-emotional learning, which he calls a “back door” for CRT. He addressed the lack of evidence about CRT in schools, saying he “never really claimed that it’s taught in schools. What I always say is CRT is practiced in schools.”

One example: a book he said his godson had to read — “Race Cars: A Children’s Book About White Privilege.”

“I think a lot of what the progressive movement on the left in education has done has been very, very harmful,” he said. “It’s meant to divide a lot of people.”

But Katie Paris, Ohio-based founder of Red Wine and Blue, a women’s political organization, said she doesn’t understand why anyone would attack social-emotional learning. She sees it as a benign effort to teach kids how to get along with different people.

“My jaw drops that anyone would ever want to argue with my kids learning to be kind,” she said, “because that is what they’re learning.”

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