Pandemic polarization is bringing out the worst in some parents

September 9, 2021 10:26 am

Photo credit Getty Images

In the not-so-distant-past, adults were expected to set the example for children. Be role models. Demonstrate respectful behavior. Follow the Golden Rule.

But today, we are unquestionably failing our kids in this regard, especially as it relates to adult behavior toward school officials.

Recently, an Arizona father, armed with “law enforcement-grade” zip ties, threatened to arrest an assistant principal after his son was told to quarantine due to COVID-19 exposure.

Anti-maskers forced a school board to cancel its meeting for safety reasons, then stormed the building and held a mock election to declare themselves the district’s new board members.

If Doug Ducey was operating under any pretense of student safety, he would, at the very least, condemn the actions of the instigators and vigilantes.

– Julie Erfle

A Republican candidate for governor, who set a mask on fire and used a sledgehammer to smash television sets in a campaign video, held a rally at a college campus where she ceremoniously stomped on a mask like a toddler throwing a tantrum and encouraged students to disobey masking guidelines meant to keep students, their professors and the wider community safe from a virus that has killed more than 19,000 Arizonans.

Charlie Kirk, the far-right instigator who refers to the volunteer school board members duly-elected by their communities as “parasites,” whipped parents and community members into a frenzy over masking and equity training at school board meetings in both Chandler and Scottsdale

That shouldn’t be surprising, considering one of Kirk’s organizations brought busloads of people to Washington, D.C. on January 6 to participate in the “Stop the Steal” insurrection.

Nor should we be surprised to see Kirk’s Turning Point USA launch a School Board Watchlist that seems to glorify belligerent and aggressive confrontations at school board meetings.


The watchlist names three Arizona school districts that supposedly push “radical and false ideologies” such as Critical Race Theory, an academic framework that is widely misunderstood and purposefully misconstrued as anti-white racism. 

Since the pandemic hit, Arizonans have witnessed a huge uptick in violent rhetoric and images aimed at school board members and school staff. And sadly, statewide officials such as Gov. Ducey and the Republican candidates who wish to replace him, have done little to nothing to condemn the bad behavior or stand in defense of those taking the brunt of the attacks.

Instead, our governor exacerbated the problem by incentivizing schools to disregard CDC guidelines, setting up the heated confrontations now commonplace at school board meetings.

If the governor was operating under any pretense of student safety, he would, at the very least, condemn the actions of the instigators and vigilantes. He’d point out that when a parent disagrees with a principal or teacher, the first step to resolving that disagreement shouldn’t be zip ties or threats of arrest.

Ducey and other statewide electeds would encourage community input at school board meetings, but highlight that it’s equally important to listen to those who spend their free time pouring over budgets and curricula. Community members may find these school board members know more about what’s actually happening in the schools they oversee than the outside instigators who have no ties to the school and no proof of the conspiracies they’re attempting to peddle.

Unfortunately, we know why politicians have refused to calm the waters or set a good example for our students: it furthers the political agendas of egocentric adults.

There’s a reason Kirk’s “School Board Watchlist” includes Mesa, Scottsdale and Chandler districts but not Phoenix Union, which was the first to implement a mask mandate.

The three suburban (and whiter) districts just happen to be located in areas that swung left in the last election and helped President Biden win Arizona. By riling up the base with false conspiracies and plenty of manufactured outrage, Kirk hopes to increase turnout among Trumpublicans in the upcoming midterms.

Meanwhile, Ducey and his chamber of commerce pals are exploiting the tension to further their long-term goal of privatizing public education. Ducey used his ban on mask mandates as justification to unilaterally expand private school vouchers. (Never mind that some private schools, including the one his sons attended, mandate masks or that voters oppose voucher expansion).

Our kids, who already deal with the constant threat of school shootings and spent the last year-and-a-half detached from their peers, are the ones who live with the consequences of these manipulators.

How shameful that the adults in charge are not behaving as role models for our students, but are instead ignoring, and at times, igniting the sparks that lead to increased violence on school campuses.


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Julie Erfle
Julie Erfle

Julie Erfle hails from North Dakota, but has called Arizona home for more than twenty years. She began her career in Phoenix as a creative services producer at KPHO-TV5 and 3TV. Blending her background in communications with her passion for community activism, Julie launched the political blog Politics Uncuffed in 2011, and began working as a communications director and consultant on candidate and initiative campaigns. She is the former executive director of Progress Now Arizona, a progressive communications and advocacy non-profit, and a fellow with the Flinn-Brown Arizona Center for Civic Leadership and Leading for Change.