What’s Behind the Attacks on our Public Schools?

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To the Editor:

In September, Republicans, many without any students in the Greenwich public schools, assembled a crowd at the Board of Education meeting to protest alleged “indoctrination” of students. Angry participants shouted at retired public school teachers, accusing them of being “pedophiles” and “groomers.” These protests followed a series of earlier rallies organized by Greenwich Patriots and State Rep. Kimberly Fiorello against school masking policies and vaccine requirements in the midst of a global pandemic.

Why, one may wonder, is so much anger directed at our public schools, especially when Connecticut is ranked second in the nation for its public school system, and Greenwich public schools were just given an A+ and ranked third-best in the state by the education platform Niche.

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Attacks on public schools are not new. The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Brown vs. Board of Education provided the perfect opportunity to turn some white Americans against their public schools. Rather than be forced to integrate, Virginia led eleven southern states in a policy of “massive resistance” organized by their U.S. Senator Harry Byrd. They passed laws requiring public schools to shut down to avoid integration, and offered tax-funded tuition grants to allow white parents to send their children to private schools instead. For example, in Prince Edward County, Virginia, the Board of Supervisors padlocked every public school. While the white students were sent to new private schools, the 1,800 Black children remained without schools from 1959-1964, when a federal court finally intervened. As explained in Nancy MacLean’s Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right’s Stealth Plan for America, the key to the strategy was undermining the public’s trust in the existing system.

Fast forward to 2022 and the same strategy is in play. Conservative commentator Christopher Rufo outlined the plan: “To get to universal school choice, you really need to operate from a premise of universal public school distrust.” And what better way to subvert trust in a system that benefits all than by defunding public schools, and then attacking them as “failing”?

Our legislators Kimberly Fiorello and Ryan Fazio, both of whom sit on the Education Committee (yet have no children in the public school system), have repeatedly used their position to defund public schools in favor of school choice voucher programs. Their votes against the public school system earned Fiorello the lowest scores of the entire House and Fazio the second lowest score in the Senate from the Connecticut Education Association. Meanwhile, their attacks on our public schools are causing real damage. Teacher retention in this climate is a major challenge. And although they fear speaking out, public school teachers are breaking under the strain. Last year nearly 100 Greenwich teachers marched to protest the harassment and bullying they were experiencing.

The war on our public schools hurts us all. It hurts not only teachers and students, but the surrounding community as well. Our high property values are rooted in the strength of our public schools, which are utilized by about 75% of Connecticut families with school-aged children. One of the first questions that families ask realtors when considering where to buy a home is, “How are the local schools?”

We in the Greenwich Democratic Town Committee condemn the attacks on our teachers and administrators. We believe that thriving public schools are essential to maintaining our property values and making our community a great place to live. We are proud to endorse our candidates, who will to stand up for – and maintain – our terrific public school system.

Joe Angland
Chair, Greenwich Democratic Town Committee