Sarasota Herald-Tribune | Patricia McKnight | January 18, 2022
A new coalition formed by 16 nonprofit organizations has come together to combat hostility at local school board meetings.
Protect Our Public Schools Manasota and Support Our Schools initiated the campaign “Take the Pledge to Stand up for Public Schools” to bring in more voices to school board meetings.
Campaign leaders are calling on supporters to help ledge four initiatives for public schools in Sarasota and Manatee counties:
- Stand up for high-quality equitable and inclusive education for all students.
- Stand up for truth and evidence-based curriculum that accurately portrays history and science.
- Stand up to keep school boards nonpartisan.
- Stand up for well-funded public schools.
Carol Lerner, chair for POPS Manasota, recalls going to school board meetings and seeing the hostile environment from opposing sides.
“As things got worse, as attacks got personal … we said it’s really time to start doing something so we started planning this coalition,” Lerner said.
Angela Wynn, a co-founder of SOS, echoed Lerner’s point, saying school board meetings have been unwelcoming to concerned parents.
“We began as a group of concerned moms who were witnessing firsthand the offensive diatribe and appalling behavior being exhibited at school board meetings. It felt like we were always playing defense against this dangerous rhetoric,” Wynn said. “So we came together with one united cause. We wanted to combat the hate and prejudice that was being displayed at these meetings and in the community.”
From mask mandates to which books should and shouldn’t be allowed in schools, the Take the Pledge coalition wants voices from the community to get involved. Organizers believe school board meetings should not be intimidating and should welcome feedback from concerned citizens.
Without naming groups specifically, members of the coalition said at a virtual press conference Tuesday that certain groups are actively working to damage area public schools.
“These are very well funded groups, and they’ve taken very good notions like freedom, liberty, parent rights, and totally distorted them,” Lerner said. “They’ve turned them into weapons attacking critical race theory [and] attacking mask mandates.”
Organizations who have joined the Stand Up for Public Schools campaign include: Support Our Schools, Sarasota County NAACP, Manasota ASALH (Association for the Study of African American Life and History), Brady Sarasota, ALSO Youth, Modern Marimba, Suncoast Women of Action, Newtown Nation, The Nation Group, Center for Religious Tolerance, Suncoast NEA – Retired, Social Justice Committee of the UU Church of Sarasota, Lean on Me, Peace Education and Action Center, and Manatee Indivisible.
They are encouraging others to take the pledge online at supportourschools.com/events/pledge-press-conference.
“We want to tackle the real issues facing education in our communities and to do that we have to change the narrative away from that of vitriol to that of constructive input from the community,” Sarasota parent and founder of Support Our Schools Juliette Scholles said. “I want my daughter to have a high-quality education in a diverse, safe and caring environment.”