Non-partisan Johnston School Board race attracts national right-wing group seeking ‘honest, patriotic education’

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JOHNSTON, Iowa — Election Day typically focuses on mayoral or city council contests, but this year, local school board races are in the national spotlight.

Even though school board races are non-partisan by nature, political leanings are playing an important part in several contests. That includes the Johnston school board race, which has attracted the attention of right-wing political action group 1776 Action.

The group, which draws inspiration from former President Donald Trump’s 1776 Commission and lists correcting “anti-American indoctrination” among its goals on its website, claims three Johnston School Board candidates signed their pledge of objectives.

According to a release from the group Thursday, Deb Davis, Clint Evans and Derek Tidball agreed to the “1776 Pledge.” The document encourages candidates to “restore honest, patriotic education that cultivates in children a profound love for our country” and claims “teaching children to hate their country and each other is immoral and deeply harmful to society.”

Iowa State University Department of Political Science chair Mack Shelley believes the politicization of school board races was cultivated by social media and the intense debate over mask mandates.

Shelley related the conversation to previous debates about busing, integration, or prayer in schools. However, he believes this latest debate throws school board non-partisanship to the wind.

“This is pushing the envelope,” Shelley said. “This is something different which indicates a high degree of political polarization driven by cultural differences and ideological divisions.”

Shelley believes the politicization over what he deemed “culture wars” in schools is a larger reflection of current American politics as a whole.

“Polarization is not a good way to get people involved in the political process necessarily, but it is effective,” Shelley said. “We saw it with the presidential election of 2020, which had the highest turnout in several decades.”

In addition to Davis, Evans, and Tidball, the Johnston School Board election also features candidates Lya Williams, Tiara Mays, Justin Allen, and Dr. Jeanie Kerber.

More than 750 first-time candidates are on the ballot in Iowa’s school board elections this year, according to the Iowa Association of School Boards.

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