Meet the Conservatives Who Hope to Run Orange County Public Schools – INDY Week – DC Initiative on Racial Equity
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Pedophiles. Groomers. Communists.

These are names angry parents, railing against mask mandates, LGBTQIA+-inclusive books, and classroom discussions of racism, have called members of the Orange County Board of Education.

For the past two years, run-of-the-mill conservatives and right-wing extremists have turned out in force to decry the school district’s progressive policies, wearing T-shirts that read, “Educate, don’t indoctrinate,” and echoing the motto of “parental rights” group Moms for Liberty: “I don’t co-parent with the government.”

Tensions peaked in September when some 50 members of the Proud Boys, a white nationalist hate group, attended a board meeting in uniform, prompting the board to pass a resolution opposing “incidents of hostile and racist behavior” and consider measures to buffer schools from political protests.

That hasn’t dampened conservatives’ fervor. As the election approaches, some liberals are worried about the momentum groups like Moms for Liberty and the Education First Alliance have built among voters in Orange County. Local members of these groups are active at OCS board meetings, showing up weekly to criticize the board’s actions.

Now, these groups’ members, along with members of local parent protest group OCS Truth, are campaigning to elect a slate of conservative candidates to the board who are expected to reverse progressive policies.

With four of seven seats up for grabs, the future of education in Orange County is on the line. Republicans and unaffiliated voters could flip the current progressive majority, especially as board members Brenda Stephens and Hillary MacKenzie, whose terms end this year, are not seeking reelection.

Of the seven candidates running, three are conservative—Bethni Lee, Penny Carter King, and Anne Purcell. Some hold worryingly extreme views.

What’s Happening in Orange County?

During the past two years, a quorum of board members—Stephens, MacKenzie, Carrie Doyle, Jennifer Moore, and Sarah Smylie—have passed some of the most progressive school system policies in the state.

The board’s gender support policy, approved in 2020, outlines how staff should support trans students by using preferred names and pronouns, addressing health and social needs, and preventing discrimination and harassment.

Conservatives have attacked the policy, saying it allows school staff to keep secrets from parents about their child’s gender identity. In fact, the policy attempts to balance support for trans students with “the requirement that parents be kept informed about their children.”

“In some cases, transgender students may not want their parents to know about their transgender status,” the

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