New group launches effort to gain 'parental rights' on MN school boards

Conservative group and its supporters rallied outside the Capitol Thursday

A children holds a sign
Henry, 8, holds a sign during the “reclaim our schools rally” at outside the State Capitol building in St. Paul on Thursday.
Kerem Yücel | MPR News

Updated: Aug. 8, 8:48 a.m. | Posted: Aug. 4, 6:54 p.m.

A new group calling itself the Minnesota Parents Alliance rallied at the state capitol Thursday. Dozens of supporters showed up for the gathering. Some carried signs with images of LGBTQ flags crossed out, or “CRT” (Critical Race Theory) crossed out as well as school board candidate signs. 

John Anderson, who’s running for a seat on the Elk River School board, was one of many who spoke at the rally.

“You see indoctrination creeping into the school system,” Anderson said. “I said, ‘Wait.’ I retired from my position and I decided, let’s run for school board.”

Other group members were from Osseo, Lakeville, Forest Lake, Owatonna, Stillwater and several other districts. They focused their speeches on a number of conservative issues and raised concerns regarding critical race theory, sex education and gender expression. 

Cristine Trooien, a mother of three, launched the group. She started homeschooling her preschoolers during the pandemic. But when she saw her district implement programs focused on equity, she said it made her want to keep her kids home until things changed. 

Cristine Trooien, Executive Director of MPA speaks
Cristine Trooien, Executive Director of Minnesota Parents Alliance speaks during the “reclaim our school's rally” outside the State Capitol building in St. Paul on Thursday.
Kerem Yücel | MPR News

“Our district passed what was called a cultural competency plan and I read through that and I thought, ‘You know what, these are not messages that I want my young kids seeing,’” Trooien said. 

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Trooien, who says her group is non-partisan, has partnered with several conservative organizations in launching her group. Among them, the Center of the American Experiment and the Child Protection League — which advocates for removing comprehensive sex education from schools as well opposing policies and programs designed to make schools safe for LGBTQ students. 

“But I cannot tell you the number of parents that have contacted our organization and want to partner with us that identify as a Democratic voter,” Trooien said. “[They say] I am a left-leaning voter, I have always voted for Democratic candidates and what is going on in our schools right now is just unacceptable.”

Trooien said her group has trained dozens of parents to run for their local district boards, and currently has 100 parents “aligned with our mission,” who are filing to run in upcoming board elections. 

Anne Walsh listens to speakers
Anne Walsh, 25, a teacher, listens to speakers during the “reclaim our school's rally” outside the State Capitol building in St. Paul on Thursday.
Kerem Yücel | MPR News

As Minnesota schools in recent years have moved to address long-standing systemic racial disparities in the classroom, some have run up against concern or outrage from parents — many of them white. Other parents have brought their frustrations about COVID-19 masking policies to board meetings.

Last year’s board elections saw a higher than usual number of special elections, many fueled by board members quitting in droves — in some cases as a result of contentious interactions with parents and community members over masking policies and critical race theory

“I think we saw last year a lot of inflammatory things happening at school board meetings and that’s not getting us anywhere,” Trooien said. “Dedicated school board members? That’s going to get us somewhere.” 

A flag is waving
Michael McCarty (left) holds a sign that reads “1 Race, 2 Genders” next to an American flag during the “reclaim our school's rally” outside the State Capitol building in St. Paul on Thursday.
Kerem Yücel | MPR News

Minnesota already has several organizations that are focused on parent involvement with schools, including the Parent Teacher Association. 

The Minnesota School Boards Association said district boards have always welcomed parent input in public schools, have dozens of formal opportunities for parent communication and that 99 percent of people currently serving on school boards are parents. 

People hold signs
Members of Minnesota Parents Alliance hold signs during the “reclaim our schools rally” at outside the State Capitol building in St. Paul on Thursday.
Kerem Yücel | MPR News

“Our board and school districts do a lot to encourage and strengthen parental partnership today. I’m not sure if it’s all seen or completely understood,” said Minnesota School Boards Association Executive Director Kirk Schneidawind. “We welcome discussion on how we can enhance that, but by the same token we feel like parental opportunities for input exist today for districts.”

Correction (Aug. 8, 2022): An earlier version of this story misidentified the Minnesota Parents Alliance. The story has been updated.

The story also has been edited to clarify a quote from Cristine Trooien.