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Community Voices: Using our schools and children to fight culture wars

John Sigle - Sentinel Editorial

Mar 23, 2023

"Schools exist to provide education. Our schools and children shouldn’t be used to fight culture wars. Please, educate yourself about the agendas of these outside groups and their local counterparts. Then vote on May 16."

As a resident of Carlisle, I have many reasons to feel proud of our community and fortunate to have settled here to finish my career and retire. Three major institutions – Dickinson College, Penn State Dickinson Law, and the U.S. Army War College – bring a strong cultural and economic base. A vital downtown bolstered by healthy civic pride adds significantly to our quality of life.

Although my wife and I don’t have school-age kids, I often hear about and witness the quality of our local school system. Among my acquaintances, the picture of the Carlisle Area School District is a very positive one.

Unfortunately, we are witnessing a national movement that seeks to impose its political and moral views on a local level by very organized attempts to take control of local school boards. Groups like Moms for Liberty and No Left Turn in Education are in fact working toward a right turn in education with the support of political PACs such as the American Principles Project and the 1776 Project PAC.

At a more basic level, this is a calculated and well-funded strategy to gain political dominance by gaining control at all levels of government and building a farm team of conservative candidates. School board elections are the primary battleground, and culture war issues are the chosen weapons.

We are seeing this strategy develop right here in Cumberland County, and specifically in the Carlisle area. The Take Back Our Schools PAC seeks to “elect school board directors in the Cumberland County region in 2023” … “who will defend parents’ rights and fight CRT and the hyper-sexualization of our kids in schools.”

Moms for Liberty is a national organization that began in Florida. It claims a nonpartisan status and doesn’t have to disclose its donors. A local chapter was started in 2021 “with a divine calling” and “a mission to stoke the fires of liberty.” Their issues include “masks, Critical Race Theory (CRT), Social and Emotional Learning (SEL), pornographic books, [and] political activism in the classroom … Schools are a center for reading, writing, civics and arithmetic.”

And they want to “spread awareness and an understanding of the limited role of government” and “stand together against government overreach and intimidation tactics.” These organizations often claim to be nonpartisan, but that seems to be a pretty thin veneer. Barb Gleim, our local legislative representative, appears as a proud member and promoter of this local chapter.

Recently, a group that appears to be associated with this chapter has come forward to run as a Republican team for the Carlisle Area School District board. They call themselves CASD Team For Change, and Barb Gleim is literally in the picture.

So, the natural question is “What changes do they seek?”

They mention a few things we all would like to change, like falling test scores and rising property taxes. But what about “poor communication between parents and the board” and teaching the “trendy ideology of the day.” I’ve neither seen nor heard evidence that these are actual problems.

Of course, change is a constant, in all current life, including education. And we have a school board that has proven competent to deal with what’s been thrown at them as they have continued the legacy of a fine education system in this district.

As part of last year’s search for a new superintendent, a series of focus groups were held with different groups of stakeholders in our school system, including parents, teachers, staff, students and community leaders, in order to identify challenges a new superintendent would face and strengths they would need. While some areas needing improvement were identified, the overall picture was one of a healthy, transparent and responsive system.

Is there really a need to make a drastic change away from a tried-and-true team to one that seems most interested in promoting an ideology?

Citizens for Carlisle Schools is a group of five cross-filed candidates for the CASD board. It includes three incumbents – Paula Bussard, current president of the board, Bruce Clash and Jon Tarrant – along with two newcomers – Donny Martinez and Joe Shane. This group is committed to maintaining that which parents and students feel strongly about and continuously working to improve our fine school system.

Schools exist to provide education. Our schools and children shouldn’t be used to fight culture wars. Please, educate yourself about the agendas of these outside groups and their local counterparts. Then vote on May 16.


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