Nov 3, 2022 - Politics

Bentonville school race is in the national PAC spotlight

Illustration of a school street sign with the Republican Party logo on instead of icons of children.

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

Five people running for Bentonville School Board seats have received an endorsement from the conservative 1776 Project PAC based in New York.

  • The candidates accepted in-kind campaigning in the form of a flyer mailed to residents and text messages to Bentonville voters. No school board candidate has received financial contributions from the PAC.
  • The 1776 Project has spent between $25,000 and $30,000 total on the race, founder Ryan Girdusky told us.

Driving the news: School board elections have become a battleground for conservative groups, many of whom believe curricula is trending more liberal as conversations about race, gender and sexuality change with the times.

Context: CRT is a graduate-level analytical legal framework examining how race and racism may have influenced American law and institutions.

  • Reality check: Neither CRT nor 1619 Project curricula, which are often mistaken as the same thing, are taught in Bentonville schools, nor is there any proposal to introduce the teachings.

Details: The PAC's flier states: "Progressive activists in [the] Bentonville School District want to indoctrinate your children."

  • At least one text message shared with Axios reads: "Critical Race Theory is in your schools..."

Between the lines: Girdusky told Axios he's not alleging that CRT is taught in Bentonville. He said he's concerned with the diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) training teachers receive from the Racial Equity Institute and believes CRT-related concepts are taught to local students.

Yes, but: Bentonville school district spokesperson Leslee Wright said no teacher in the district is required to take DEI training.

  • A virtual course by the Racial Equity Institute was offered once in 2019, but not mandated. About 24 teachers opted to attend — less than 1% of the district's staff.

Zoom out: The 1776 project is backing about 50 school board candidates across the U.S., Girdusky said. The PAC has spent more than $2.7 million on school board elections since April 2021.

What they're saying: "​​As a board member, I've never seen any hint of CRT in our classrooms, and as a Christian and registered Republican, I would be the first to speak out against it," Jennifer Faddis, an incumbent seeking re-election, said in an email to Axios.

  • "The fact that we have a PAC that has inserted [itself] into our community without speaking to anyone with actual ties to our district is reprehensible. It is clear — based on the lies and misinformation — that they don't care about our parents, teachers or students."
  • Eric White, school board president, noted the PAC didn't submit any Freedom of Information Act requests for research.
  • "When you say things like Bentonville is indoctrinating children … you're saying untrue things," White said.

Two of the five school board candidates endorsed by the PAC did not respond to multiple requests for comment. Yoselin Bolivar and Gail Pianalto declined to talk with Axios.

  • Joel Dunning, who's running for Zone 1 and endorsed by the PAC, told Axios he agrees with the premise of the 1776 Project, but, "They hurt me more than they helped me, probably."

What's next: Election Day is Tuesday, Nov. 8.

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