A new subject of concern has arisen in the North Carolina Republican Party. On March 16, Lt. Governor Mark Robinson (R) announced that he would be establishing a task force to catch and stop instances of what he called indoctrination.
Students, parents, and teachers who have concerns about what students are learning or how teachers treat students can now access a hotline through the Lt. Governor’s website. Types of concerns that Robinson hopes to hear are teachers influencing students with their own person politics, acts of discrimination, and inappropriate subject matters in the classroom.
However, this is not the first time North Carolinians have heard this concept from state Republicans. In the 2020 elections, the Wake County School Board saw the issue of indoctrination in the classroom become a talking point among several of the candidates.
While the Wake County School Board is officially non-partisan, candidates usually get the backing of a particular party. Before the 2020 elections, eight out of the nine members on the board got the backing of the Wake County Democratic Party, with only one member getting the backing of the county’s Republican Party.
County Republicans sought to change this composition. They fielded six candidates to run against incumbents with Democratic backing. These candidates ran mainly on school reopening, school choice, and stopping what they say is the promotion of a liberal agenda in the classroom. While some of these candidates focused more on the school reopening aspect, one of these conservative backed candidates went hard on the indoctrination issue.
On multiple occasions, Steve Bergstrom, one of the conservative backed candidates, expressed outrage over lessons involving the Black Lives Matter protest. On one occasion when an 8th grade class watched a video involving a BLM activist speaking about economic disparities among Black people, Bergstrom said the schools are showing “inappropriate” and “politically motivated” material. In a separate incident, students at Middle Creek High School were asked to fill out a form listing forms of privilege that they may have. In response, Bergstrom said the assignment was “socially and politically charged” in a tweet.
Rachel Mills ran for Wake County School Board District 7, which encompasses much of Morrisville and bits of Cary, as well as much of the northwest Raleigh suburbs. All three Leesville schools are in this district, as well as Panther Creek High School, Pine Hollow Middle School, and Sycamore Creek Elementary School. Mills leaned heavy on the concept of stopping possible indoctrination in the classroom. Her campaign went as far to make their slogan “Education, not indoctrination”, a phrase that all of her yard signs displayed. On her website, Mills lists one of her priorities as stopping “the misguided Marxist agenda”.
Mills ran against incumbent Chris Heagarty. Heagarty joined the board in late 2018 as an appointee. He filled the seat vacated by the late Kathy Hartenstine, who passed a few weeks after winning re-election. Mills went on to lose to Heagarty, but the margin is what’s important. Mills came up short by just about three points, or 2000 votes. These school board races are at the bottom of the ballot and don’t garner much attention. With that said, it’s difficult to say whether or not Mills’ message of stopping indoctrination in the classroom resonated with voters in the 7th district. Perhaps parents do feel concern about teachers pushing ideologies in the classroom, or maybe they simply weren’t familiar with Heagarty just yet.
Other than Mills, only one of the six challengers backed school board candidates won their race. Karen Carter ousted incumbent Bill Fletcher in the 9th School Board District, which covers much of Cary. Carter joined District 3 incumbent Roxie Cash as the two Republican backed board members.
It will be interesting to see where this issue of indoctrination in the classroom goes. With these school board candidates, and now the Lt. Governor advocating against it, some Republicans in the legislature may take the issue up as an attempt to show their constituents that they care about what’s going on in their kids’ classrooms. Overall, the few Democrats who have responded to Robinson’s new indoctrination hotline are skeptical, calling Robinson paranoid over nothing. Whether or not this issue goes anywhere outside of local races will be up to Republicans, if they wish to use it as their newest talking point it could benefit their message game against Democrats.