We have been following the activities of various rightwing groups that purport to represent parents. Many if not all are funded by Dark Money, meaning their funders are anonymous. “Parents Defending Education” is now active in Massachusetts, suing districts for events related to race, gender, and sexual orientation. As the article notes, PDE has a staff of 13, some with a Koch background, and is represented by a Trump-connected lawyer. The goal of such groups is to undermine public confidence in public schools and in the judgment of professional educators. The ultimate goal is to heighten the teacher shortage and encourage privatization of schools.

The Boston Globe story begins:

An increasingly active right-leaning non-profit called Parents Defending Education filed a federal civil rights complaint against Newton North High School last month, alleging that a student-led theater production broke the law by limiting auditions to people of color only.

The same group sued Wellesley Public Schools last year for alleged illegal discrimination when Wellesley High School hosted a forum for Asian students and students of color to discuss a mass shooting at an Asian massage parlor in Atlanta. The teacher who organized the session wrote that it was “not for students who identify only as White.”

So far, the national group has identified 43 “incidents” in which they say Massachusetts schools inappropriately – or even illegally – taught students about race, sexual orientation or gender, setting school districts across the Commonwealth on edge that they might be sued next.

“I’ve never seen anything like this before in all my years here,” said Wellesley School Superintendent David Lussier, who settled the lawsuit with the organization in February. “They try to go after superintendents and get people fired.”

Parents Defending Education did not return repeated requests for comment, but supporters say the group offers a vital counterweight to an education system steeped in liberal values.

“I think it’s good because, for a long time, education has been very one-sided,” said Jennifer McWilliams, a consultant to Parents Defending Education who runs her own advocacy group in Indiana. “Schools have decided that they need to teach children morals, values, attitude and worldview over academics.”

The two-year-old organization, based in Washington D.C., urges parents across the country to report incidents in which they believe schools are dividing students on racial lines or inappropriately teaching students about sex or gender roles. The group states on its website that education must be based on “scholarship and facts” and says ethnic studies divides “children into oppressor and ‘oppressed’ groups,” while teaching white students “guilt and shame.”

And the organization has a sizable, well-connected staff to promote their agenda. Parents Defending Education’s website lists 13 staff members including Nicole Neily, former president of an organization affiliated with the Koch Brothers called Speech First and Aimee Viana, a former Trump Administration appointee.

Schools have long been battlegrounds in the nation’s culture wars, but experts say Parents Defending Education marks something new: an attempt to nationalize the agenda. The group has been promoting conservative values across the country, enlisting local groups with names like Moms for Liberty and No Left Turn in Education along the way.

“We see increased coordination, national coordination among groups of all political stripes and partisan stripes, thanks to social media,” said Meira Levinson, a professor at Harvard’s Graduate School of Education. “The right more than the left seems to have mastered techniques of developing language that then can be replicated in legislation, or policy across different municipalities and state governments.”

For Massachusetts educators facing criticism from Parents Defending Education, it suddenly feels like the group is everywhere. The group criticized Brookline schools in April after teachers organized a walkout to protest a Florida measure opponents have characterized as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill.
In June, the organization condemned Milton for teaching a lesson about the country’s first openly gay politician Harvey Milk and the importance of the letters LGBTQ.

“Who the hell wants to go into this profession anymore if this is going to be the type of community that we’re serving and the type of pressure that we’re going to experience,” Wellesley Educators Association President Kyle Gekopi said. “It’s really been forcing a lot of people to question their choices.”

Most recently, Parents Defending Education filed a federal civil rights complaint on Oct. 4 against Newton North High School.

The group alleged to the United States Department of Education that the school violated the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment. Both are meant to protect people from discrimination based on race, color or national origin in programs or activities that receive federal financial assistance. That protection extends to white students, they say.

Parents Defending Education claims the school’s student-led production, “Lost and Found: Stories of People of Color by People of Color,” restricted auditions to only students of color. The show, which organizers described as “a no-cut, cabaret-style show for students of color,” was meant to “provide a safe community space for students of color to express themselves through the performing arts.”

But Newton Public Schools put out a statement stressing that “no one is turned away or excluded from participating” in the play.

Educators far beyond Newton are nervously watching the case unfold. Brian Fitzgerald, president of the Plymouth County Education Association, said Parents Defending Education remind him of activists in past decades who have fought to curtail sex education, making it difficult to teach students about health.

“My fear is that they’re going to impact the ability of a student to learn,” Fitzgerald said.