New Hampshire Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut has long taken a critical stance toward the public school system he oversees.
Now he is lending his support to conservative activists who want to quash school mask mandates and who have called for continuing to push back on local school boards.
On Sunday, Edelblut spoke at a forum hosted by the Government Integrity Project, a group of conservative activists that has been embroiled in several right-wing and libertarian controversies in recent months.
Group members encouraged baseless accusations of fraud in state elections, encouraged local efforts against pandemic-related public health initiatives, and supported protests against vaccination mandates in the state. .
Last week, the group’s founder, Ken Eyring, described New Hampshire under Governor Chris Sununu as becoming “dangerously close to what should be common in Communist China.”
Addressing the Government Integrity Project forum on Sunday, Edelblut focused on one area of the project’s agenda: how to restore parental power over local schools.
Edelblut echoed a position voiced by frustrated opponents of school mask mandates: If school boards don’t waive public health guidelines and make masks optional, they aren’t listening to public comment.
“A lot of times we’re in shock because the people in our school boards, the people who represent us – it’s our friends and our neighbors – it’s usually people who knocked on our door and said, ‘Hey, come vote for me and I’m going to do good things at school, ”Edelblut said in his remarks, which were posted publicly on YouTube on Sunday night, but were made private a day later. “And now they are unwilling to listen to us. They are not prepared to accept this contribution.
On Monday, Sununu condemned Edelblut’s participation in Sunday’s forum, saying in a written statement to NHPR: “Given the history of this marginal group and its support for anti-government actions, the commissioner’s decision to attend. in his official capacity was inappropriate. He assured me that he would exercise greater discretion in the future.
Contacted afterwards, Edelblut said he viewed the invitation as a chance to speak directly to parents, and not to the leaders of the Government Integrity Project. The founders of the project include longtime Edelblut supporters Ken Eyring and Tom Murray, who have been involved with charter schools, local school boards and have consulted with Edelblut on education issues for years.
“There are many educational pathways for parents to take that will help their children be successful, and I think it’s only appropriate to be so transparent and upfront with these families about how to discover the different paths and the various options, ”Edelblut wrote. in an email to NHPR.
Edelblut’s appearance at the Government Integrity Project forum comes as Sununu navigates divisions within the Republican Party over the state’s response to COVID-19. This came to a head last week when the Republican-led Executive Council rejected $ 27 million in vaccine assistance from the federal government.
It also highlights the conflicting positions of state officials on how to deal with COVID-19. As senior health officials continue to stress the importance of universal masking in most schools, Sununu and Edelblut say the final say should be with parents.
Amid these competing messages, many school leaders have decided to impose a mask mandate on students, saying they are mindful of public health advice and families who are just as passionate about masks as those who are. oppose it.
In his remarks at Sunday’s forum, Edelblut made it clear that he believes parents’ choice shouldn’t be about masks alone. He offered campaigners advice on how to tackle what some conservatives see as a public school effort to usurp parental control, whether it’s public health or lessons about race and gender.
“It’s no longer enough to put your kids on a bus and say goodbye to them and then wait for them to come back,” he said. “You have to know what’s going on. You need to understand the books they read, the program they read, the topics they are working on.
Edelblut commended forum participants for attending school board meetings and sharing their views “in a respectful way, hopefully”, and said there was a role for them to play. loud agitators and those seeking concrete policy change.
A former Republican lawmaker and gubernatorial candidate, Edelblut has long positioned himself as an advocate for parental choice, even when it pits him against public schools. Some of his more recent initiatives, which receive unprecedented support from conservative organizations, expand school choice and send public money to private schools and homeschoolers.
Edelblut sees part of his job as responding to the concerns of frustrated parents in public schools and conveying them to schools. But Carl Ladd, director of the New Hampshire Association of School Administrators, says Edelblut’s approach is undermining school districts.
“The commissioner bypasses superintendents, directly calling guidance counselors, teachers and principals to reprimand them for a complaint filed by a parent,” Ladd said. “Everything a parent says must be gospel truth without understanding the school side. “
In an interview earlier this month with NHPR, Edelblut described his communication as much friendlier, saying he contacted school employees directly when he heard complaints from parents he deemed relevant, and employees are often happy to be alerted.
This article is shared by the partners of The Granite State News Collaborative. For more information visit collaborationnh.org.