Lessons from Arlington: The Public School Model Needs to Change

By Maria Keffler

On March 2, 2019, five public school parents sat around a kitchen table and laid preliminary plans for defending the hill all five were prepared to die on: parents’ right to authority over their own children’s education, health, and well-being. The Arlington Parent Coalition (APC) was born.

A year later, we’ve arrived at the disturbing conclusion that public school is no longer a safe place for children. Curricula and policies that oppose many families’ values, a system that enforces no consequences for wrongdoing, and the understandable exodus of family-oriented decision-makers has created a monolithic and ethically vacuous monstrosity of our public schools.

Sexuality and gender politics are being systematically rolled out in schools across America. Deep-pocketed organizations like the Human Rights Campaign, Planned Parenthood, and the National Education Association which profit financially and politically from the moral, sexual, and physical destruction of our youth have formed a malicious alliance against parents, and most parents don’t even know it’s happening.

Public schools are disregarding and circumventing parental authority and rights with few to no consequences. Arlington Public Schools (APS) settled a federal lawsuit last year regarding compliance with the 1974 Equal Educational Opportunities Act, following APS’s failure to provide adequate support and instruction for English Learners. The terms of the settlement? In brief summary, APS must now provide adequate support and instruction for English Learners.

APS suffered no material financial loss, because the school district is funded by taxpayers who foot the bill for lawsuits like this one. No one lost a job, no one was censured, nothing at all negatively affected APS or its leadership save perhaps a well-deserved hit to its reputation, which will be quickly forgotten.

Furthermore, school choice is nearly non-existent in Virginia, and the now-Democratic legislature certainly won’t improve on that situation. Unless parents are well-heeled enough to afford tuition for private school, or they have the career flexibility to homeschool their children, public school is the only game in town for them.

And public school knows it.

The Virginia Department of Education guidelines on family life education state that all curricula must be available to parents upon request. Parents in Arlington have asked elementary, middle, and high schools for said curricula, and have consistently not received it. Teachers refer parents to principals, who refer parents to Deborah DeFranco (supervisor of family life education), who refers parents back to teachers. To APC’s knowledge not one parent has seen one page of curricula from the APS sex-ed program. What happens to APS because of that? Nothing. Nothing at all.

One of the other glaring problems that surfaced during APC’s investigations over the past year is that Christians and conservatives have largely stopped participating in public school governance. Families with traditional values have for decades been exiting public schools in favor of private or homeschool, and those who remain in the public schools are seldom represented in decision-making bodies.

“We’ve got to get more family-oriented parents onto committees like School Health Advisory Boards and Counseling Boards,” one member of APC declared. Another made the point that family-oriented parents don’t want to spend their evenings at board meetings; they want to spend their evenings at home with their children. It was ultimately agreed upon that parents should strive to be home with their children in the evenings, as research has consistently shown that families who eat dinner together produce more stable and successful children.

So, if our public schools have become cesspools of sex and identity politics, and are operating as unchecked monopolies following the exodus of those who foresaw this slide into the moral abyss, what is to be done?

1. School choice needs to become a priority at every level of government. When leaders like former APS Superintendent Patrick Murphy refer to students as “customers” (see School Board minutes, 0:31:24), evidently applying business models to the public school structure, then it’s time to apply the concept of supply-and-demand to our schools as well. A robust competition for students and tax dollars will go a long way toward incentivizing schools to attend to their real customers: parents.

2. Churches, synagogues, mosques and other family-oriented organizations must take an active interest in the debacle that is our public school situation by providing educationally competitive and cost-effective school options, hosting homeschool co-ops and teaching services, and offering financial support to families who want to get out of the public schools.

3. Parents must get involved, wherever they are. Public school parents must pay attention to what is happening under their noses and behind their backs, and work together to put a stop to it. Private and homeschool families have a stake in this as well, since we know that public schools are turning out the bulk of our next generation of leaders. Public school students will be our children’s future college roommates, co-workers, and spouses. None of us is an island, unaffected by the ills attendant on others.

Until we upend the monopoly that public schools have on families and put a full and final stop to the agenda of sexualization and politicking that one-sided organizations like the Human Rights Campaign, Planned Parenthood, and the National Education Association have funneled into our classrooms, nothing in the public school will improve.

And that fact has been an horrific anniversary gift for the Arlington Parent Coalition to unwrap.

Maria Keffler is a former middle and high school teacher with a master’s degree in educational psychology. She is a co-founder of the Arlington Parent Coalition

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