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New group launches effort to gain 'parental rights' on Minnesota school boards

Conservative group and its supporters rallied outside the Capitol on Thursday.

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Henry, 8, holds a sign during the “reclaim our schools rally” at outside the State Capitol building in St. Paul on Thursday, Aug. 4, 2022.
Kerem Yucel / MPR News
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ST. PAUL -- A new group calling itself the Minnesota Parent Alliance rallied at the state capitol Thursday. Dozens of supporters showed up for the gathering. Some carried signs with images of LGBTQ flags crossed out, or “CRT” (Critical Race Theory) crossed out as well as school board candidate signs.

John Anderson, who’s running for a seat on the Elk River School board, was one of many who spoke at the rally.

“You see indoctrination creeping into the school system,” Anderson said. “I said, ‘Wait.’ I retired from my position and I decided, let’s run for school board.”

Other group members were from Osseo, Lakeville, Forest Lake, Owatonna, Stillwater and several other districts. They focused their speeches on a number of conservative issues and raised concerns regarding critical race theory, sex education and gender expression.

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Cristine Trooien, Executive Director of MPA speaks during the “reclaim our school's rally” outside the State Capitol building in St. Paul on Thursday, Aug. 4, 2022.
Kerem Yucel / MPR News

Cristine Trooien, a mother of three, launched the group. She started homeschooling her preschoolers during the pandemic. But when she saw her district implement programs focused on equity, she said it made her want to keep her kids home until things changed.

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“Our district passed what was called a cultural competency plan and I read through that and I thought, ‘You know what, these are not messages that I want my young kids seeing,’” Trooien said.

Trooien, who says her group is non-partisan, has partnered with several conservative organizations in launching her group. Among them, the Center of the American Experiment and the Child Protection League — which advocates for removing comprehensive sex education from schools as well opposing policies and programs designed to make schools safe for LGBTQ students.

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Anne Walsh, 25, a teacher, listens to speakers during the “reclaim our school's rally” outside the State Capitol building.
Kerem Yucel / MPR News

“Conservatives seem to be the only ones that are receptive to our message,” Trooien said. “I am a left-leaning voter, I have always voted Democrat candidates — if there are any Democratic candidates that want to support parents and get behind parental rights, we will welcome them.”

Trooien said her group has trained dozens of parents to run for their local district boards, and currently has 100 parents “aligned with our mission,” who are filing to run in upcoming board elections.

As Minnesota schools in recent years have moved to address long-standing systemic racial disparities in the classroom, some have run up against concern or outrage from parents — many of them white. Other parents have brought their frustrations about COVID-19 masking policies to board meetings.

Last year’s board elections saw a higher than usual number of special elections, many fueled by board members quitting in droves — in some cases as a result of contentious interactions with parents and community members over masking policies and critical race theory.

“I think we saw, last year, a lot of inflammatory things happening at school board meetings and that’s not getting us anywhere,” Trooien said. “Dedicated school board members? That’s going to get us somewhere.”

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Michael McCarty, left, holds a sign that reads “1 Race, 2 Genders” next to an American flag during the “reclaim our school's rally” on Thursday, Aug. 4, 2022, outside the State Capitol building in St. Paul.
Kerem Yucel / MPR News

Minnesota already has several organizations that are focused on parent involvement with schools, including the Parent Teacher Association.

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The Minnesota School Boards Association said district boards have always welcomed parent input in public schools, have dozens of formal opportunities for parent communication and that 99 percent of people currently serving on school boards are parents.

“Our board and school districts do a lot to encourage and strengthen parental partnership today. I’m not sure if it’s all seen or completely understood,” said Minnesota School Boards Association Executive Director Kirk Schneidawind. “We welcome discussion on how we can enhance that, but by the same token we feel like parental opportunities for input exist today for districts.”

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Members of Minnesota Parents Alliance hold signs during the “reclaim our schools rally” at outside the State Capitol building in St. Paul.
Kerem Yucel / MPR News

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