Bob Stefanowski’s ‘Parental Rights’ Post Drops CRT

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Once at the center of efforts to sweep ruling Republicans from Connecticut’s school boards and city governments, opposition to critical race theory has all but disappeared from the GOP’s playbook this fall as the party takes aim at the executive mansion and other senior offices.

Interest in the once obscure academic framework surrounding racism, in fact, seems to have died down almost as quickly as it happened in 2021, when, over a period of months, it suddenly became the subject of public meetings. turmoil, pushback against school officials and bitter political campaigns in at least half a dozen cities.

Now, less than a year later, Republican leaders say they have moved on to a broader “parental rights” message that they hope will be more effective in wooing independent and unaffiliated voters. The few exceptions appear to be among Trump-aligned Republicans, such as Senate candidate Leora Levy.

“I think it became clear that the issue was about parental rights and involving parents in various aspects of their children’s lives,” said Ben Proto, chairman of the Connecticut Republican Party. “Parents of all philosophical leanings have come to realize that they are the best at making these decisions.”

Others pointed to the limited success of Republicans last year in campaigns explicitly opposed to diversity and inclusion efforts in local schools – including a number of races where Democrats were able to flip school board seats. against far-right candidates.

“These are just smart campaign tactics. If something is clearly not working, most successful applicants will say “OK, I’m done with this and I’m not going to keep trying,” said Bill Bloss, a former Guilford school board member who advised a slate of Democratic and independent candidates who successfully swept five Republicans running on a platform opposed to critical race theory.

The change in messaging became particularly evident last week, when Republican gubernatorial candidate Bob Stefanowski proposed his own “Parental Bill of Rights” and limits on the sports in which transgender athletes should be allowed to compete – without never mention critical race theory, or CRT.

In an interview with WNPR on Tuesday, Stefanowski tiptoed a question from host Lucy Nalpathanchil about the state’s efforts to adopt a more inclusive curriculum, including lessons on LGBTQ-related concepts. Stefanowski said he supports teaching students about LGBTQ history and examples of racism in American history, but said some schools go too far in making students feel ‘guilty’ about their backgrounds .

“Presenting that level of guilt in kids just because they’re privileged or unprivileged, I don’t think is the right way to go,” Stefanowski said.

For Democrats, Stefanowski’s comments echoed many of the same arguments conservatives had made about critical race theory, which attributes racist characteristics not just to individuals but to groups of people and systems. policies. Most teachers and school administrators say the theory, developed for law students in the 1970s, is not used in K-12 education.

“I think it’s baiting people,” said Amy Dowell, the Democrats’ state director for education reform. “I think it’s gaslighting…I don’t think the nuance really softens what he’s trying to convey to voters paying attention to what he’s saying.”

Another critic of Stefanowski’s latest foray into the cultural battles surrounding K-12 education, Bloss said the Republican seemed determined to “overlap between the two sides” by appealing to conservatives who are in anger at frank discussions about race in schools, while not alienating more moderate voters who believe these lessons are worthwhile.

“It did not address the critical problem of race theory as [Republican gubernatorial candidate] Doug Mastriano has in Pennsylvania,” Bloss said. “It seemed to me that he was trying to tap into that reservoir without going as far as the Republicans did last year.”

Parents Against Stupid Stuff PAC, a socially conservative independent spending group that backs Stefanowski’s gubernatorial campaign, also dropped its message around critical race theory after telling reporters in April that the issue would be at center of its advertising.

Instead, the group’s recent ads have focused on transgender athletes as well as the controversy surrounding a college posting at Enfield comparing pizza toppings to sexual preferences, prompting an apology from officials. school. Timothy Anop, the PAC’s executive director, said both topics were polled positively among independent voters.

While Anop said the group hadn’t tested any critical race theory posts, the success of his other posts prompted the change in direction.

“I know there are people who are worried about it, I know the bands are vigilant…but at that point we found some winning posts and we thought with overwhelming support it was worth better stick to those two issues,” Anop said.

Party pundits and insiders said the broader Republican message on “parental rights” also helps incorporate parental frustrations with other policies such as masking and vaccination mandates, which have been largely excluded from the discussion of critical race theory.

“What’s interesting about that as a term, you know, what would the opposite be?” said Gayle Alberda, professor of political science at Fairfield University. “What is the opposite of parental rights, anti-parental rights?… It’s political fire, it’s political ammunition to fire at your opponents.

Proto, the Republican chairman, noted that the party was able to reverse control of about 20 Connecticut cities last year despite losses in several races where candidates focused heavily on critical race theory.

“A lot of people on the right kind of fact [critical race theory] a problem, a bigger problem than they should have for K-12 education,” said Jonathan Wharton, a professor at Southern Connecticut State University who previously led the GOP in New Haven.

“He was politicized and I think he just got lost in it all,” Wharton said. “But right now we’re seeing at least some interest or concern about the extent of parental involvement when it comes to not just decision-making about programs but also masking, certainly vaccinations, they want to have an avenue to highlight those concerns.”

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