When Barb Mozdzen opened last month’s school board meeting in Chandler, Arizona, for public comment, she had a caveat.
While many attendees indicated they were at the meeting to discuss “critical race theory,” the topic was not actually on the agenda that day.
In fact, critical race theory wasn’t being taught in Chandler’s schools, and neither the board nor administration had discussed the possibility of implementing it into the curriculum, said Mozden, the board president.
In the following hour, an attendee said he saw no distinction between critical race theory and equity trainings. Conservative activist Charlie Kirk said the board was “stomping on the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr.” And, outside, the chair of the right-wing Patriot Party of Arizona, Steve Daniels, was arrested.
In recent weeks, protests, arrests and appearances by national activists have become the norm at school board meetings across the country. Anger is boiling over after a year and a half of virtual learning and strict COVID-19 rules in schools. Fears about critical race theory, stoked in national media and fanned by conservative think tanks and activists, have heightened tensions with schools even more.
The pitched battles, over issues ranging from racism to masks to the rights of transgender students, have often caught district leaders flatfooted. Board members, used to sleepy and ill-attended public meetings, are reeling.