From the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (SPI) to local school board positions, several conservatives are currently leading or have already won key races on the education front in the 2022 General Election.
As of press time, Republican candidate for SPI Tom Horne had increased his lead in his challenge of incumbent Kathy Hoffman. Horne previously served as SPI from 2003 to 2011, prior to successfully running for the Arizona Attorney General’s Office. If the results hold up, Horne says his focus as SPI will be on improving student performance and eradicating Critical Race Theory-based curriculum from Arizona’s public schools.
In the Peoria Unified School District race, Heather Rooks won a hard-fought and challenging race. Her efforts to expose the Social Emotional Learning-based policies and practices in the district eventually led her to request an injunction against an activist parent. As reported by the Arizona Daily Independent, Rooks, a mother of four school-aged children, obtained the injunction based on threats from Democrat activist, Josh Gray.
Two other conservative candidates, Amy Carney and Carine Werner, secured seats on the Scottsdale Unified School District (SUSD) Governing Board. Their victories serve as a powerful repudiation of out-going Governing Board Member Jann-Michael Greenburg. Greenburg was sued by parents who accused him of trying to silence them after they exposed his secret Google Drive dossier on them. As AZ Free Newsreported in April, that dossier included a trove of political opposition research on parents, who opposed the district’s adoption of Social Emotional Learning and Critical Race Theory.
In the race for Flowing Wells School District Governing Board—an area known for being blue—conservative Brianna Hernandez Hamilton is currently holding on to one of two open spots. A mother of three very young children, Hernandez Hamilton ran with the slogan: “Parents + Teachers = Quality Education.”
Kurt Rohrs, a long-time education activist and frequent contributor to AZ Free News, won a spot on the Chandler Unified School District Governing Board. Rohrs, like Horne, focused on improving student performance and eliminating the divisive Critical Race Theory from the district’s curriculum. Many see Rohrs’ presence on the board as an opportunity to restore calm to the district which had become the center of controversy thanks to out-going board member Lindsay Love.
In the race for Dysart Unified School District Governing Board, conservative Dawn Densmore was retained by voters. As current president of the board, Densmore successfully led the fight to end the district’s relationship with the Arizona School Board Association (ASBA). Jennifer Drake also won a seat on the board.
Sandra Christensen is set to win a seat on the Paradise Valley Unified School District Governing Board. Libby Settle and Madicyn Reid are in the lead for spots in Fountain Hills. Paul Carver should take a win in Deer Valley. Jackie Ulmer appears to have been successful in Cave Creek as well as Rachel Walden in Mesa and Chad Thompson in Gilbert. In the Higley Unified School District, conservative Anna Van Hoek also won a seat on the board.
In a tweet from earlier this week, former Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos summed up what many parents have been feeling over the past few years – left out. In response to the National Education Association’s claim that teachers “know better than anyone” what students need in the classroom, DeVos responded, “You misspelled parents.”
Thursday, the Peoria Unified School District (PUSD) Governing Board delayed its decision on using BLOOM365, a violence prevention program, after parents discovered its CEO mocking them in a private teacher group she administered.
Concerned parents and community members who spoke at the governing board meeting compared BLOOM365 CEO, Donna Bartos, and the private Facebook group she administered, Peoria Drives Change, to “Mean Girls.” A Tolleson Union School District (TUSD) teacher, Melissa Girmscheid, was also one of the administrators. The Facebook group doesn’t appear to exist anymore.
“BLOOM365” is an acronym for their slogan, “Bring Love On Others More 365 Days a Year,” with the main mission of preventing teen dating abuse. If approved, the nonprofit would provide PUSD with staff training as well as curriculum, programs, and resources on healthy friendship and relationships, youth violence prevention, student and school safety, and social, emotional, and behavioral services through this school year and the next. Funding for their outreach education comes from three state agencies: the Arizona Department of Public Safety (AZDPS), the Arizona Department of Health Services (AZDHS), and Governor Doug Ducey’s Office of Youth Faith and Family.
Superintendent Jason Reynolds, who didn’t attend the meeting in person, was the one who requested initially that the board delay a decision on the item.
AZ Free News reviewed copies of content from the Peoria Drives Change group. Bartos appears to have allowed and encouraged teachers to use the space to air their grievances against parents and children as well as share the private details of students. Bartos herself derided PUSD parents who disagreed with concepts like white privilege as “off their rockers” and “f*****g nuts.”
Bartos criticized one mother’s advocacy for her child’s education, speculating to group members that the mother’s behaviors were caused by abuse from a parent. Girmscheid mocked the parent’s testimony of abuse as “daddy issues.”
Bartos also criticized vocal parents at governing board meetings as an “angry and obnoxious mob” that spread lies. She shared that she was “quietly” working on a movement to rally voters aged 18 through 24 to reshape Peoria politics.
“We need all Peoria taxpayers who believe religious ideology, radical politics, and exclusionary patriotism have no place on the school board or in our classrooms to band together to shut this s**t show down,” wrote Bartos.
Bartos also advocated for the school district to ignore parents if they conflict with students’ desires.
“PUSD needs to prioritize cultivating a culture of empathy, respect, and acceptance for all students over pleasing parents,” said Bartos.
PUSD governing board candidate Devon Updegraff-Day informed the board that PUSD teachers within the Peoria Drives Change group were attacking a group of 740 parents, West Valley Parents Uniting — a group of which Updegraff-Day is also a member.
One mother, Jodi Brackett, expressed her frustration with the board’s inaction. Brackett served what appeared to be court summons to the board.
Board member Rebecca Hill responded that parents’ complaints gave her “grave reservations.” She acknowledged that few students benefitted from BLOOM365, not enough to warrant the program’s continuation at PUSD.
“They have not proven to me or the public that they are a safe, trustworthy organization,” said Hill. “Either everybody benefits or we’re done with it.”
Board member and State Representative Beverly Pingerelli (R-Peoria) shared that she reviewed some of the Peoria Drives Change content, and that she would vote against approving BLOOM365.
“I don’t believe in condoning bad behavior, so I’ll be voting ‘no.’” said Pingerelli.
Board President David Sandoval, who is also a Democratic state legislature candidate, said that he spent time with site leaders that used BLOOM365 at a “much more frequent level” than them. Sandoval insisted that BLOOM365 does make an impact on students.
Sandoval said that the board needed more time to review the contents of the Facebook group and claims submitted by parents. He defended BLOOM365, saying that the wide range of dynamics among students necessitated the program’s inclusion. Sandoval advised the board members to look beyond the complaints of concerned parents by talking to other districts that use the BLOOM365 program.
Chief Student Services Officer Carter Davidson also defended BLOOM365. Davidson insisted that students did benefit from the curriculum. He said that parents uncomfortable with their child’s exposure to BLOOM365 could opt out, per the state’s codification of HB2161.
One former educator retorted that BLOOM365 included Social Emotional Learning (SEL), which she noted was a subcategory of Critical Race Theory (CRT). She insisted that there were other, better curriculums and training programs available for students and staff.
“If you’re going to use the material that is useful to children who are high-risk, let’s find something that is not written by somebody who is participating in a hate comment as well,” said the educator. “This woman, who is the CEO of this company, participated in hate speech. So, let’s take that in consideration when we review BLOOM365.”
Brent Cobb, the third vice chairman of the LD27 Republican Party, concurred. He advised the board to reconsider BLOOM365 based on Barto’s private Facebook group activity.
“And now we have the CEO of one of these SEL corporations that is participating and allowing hate speech to occur in one of her private online groups,” said Cobb. “If you’re going to allow this type of content in our schools, you need to figure out what the substrate of what that ideology is built upon because the parents are not in the room when these courses are being taught. And us parents need to have enough faith in the integrity of the program that we don’t have to worry about the content that’s being shared with our children when we’re not in the room.”
Community concern over BLOOM365 picked up last summer, after Bartos advocated for SEL to the governing board and community but didn’t disclose her status as a district vendor.
AZ Free News reached out to PUSD for comment. Their spokesperson said that they were informed Monday of the Facebook group, but haven’t been able to access it for review.
“We were informed today that a private Facebook group may be discussing students and staff. Since it is private, we do not have access to log-in and view the comments or discussion,” said the spokesperson. “We did speak with one parent to address concerns she had about the comments and will be having follow-up conversations to ensure that student information remains private. As we prepare to start the new school year, protecting the privacy of our student information remains critically important to us.”
Concerned parents revealed at Thursday’s board meeting that they supplied the PUSD governing board with content from the Peoria Drives Change group.
PUSD teachers are far from the first to create private Facebook groups to air their grievances about parents, children, and community members.
One such group made national headlines for its plans to hack and infiltrate parent and community groups containing ideological opponents. The group, “Anti-Racist Parents of Loudon County,” included teachers and school board members from the controversial district, Loudoun County Public Schools (LCPS), as well as local officials like George Soros-backed commonwealth attorney Steve Descano. Two recall efforts are underway for Descano currently, unrelated to his membership in the Facebook group.
LCPS has been in and out of the public eye since the pandemic began — most notably, for the coverup of a sexual assault in one of their high school’s bathrooms. Media coverage exposing that incident and subsequent issues within LCPS played an integral role in flipping Virginia’s governorship from Democratic to Republican.
More questions of Scottsdale Unified School District Governing Board President Jann-Michael Greenburg’s involvement in a secret dossier of parents and other political opposition created by his father, Mark Greenburg, have arisen due to a documented history of him sharing a computer with his family members. Jann-Michael has denied any knowledge of or connection with the dossier. However, there are two instances in the past where his shared computer activity became evident.
In an August school board meeting, Jann-Michael admitted that his brother, also named Mark, was the one who set up his Microsoft Word account. He didn’t explain further why his brother’s profile and name continued to be on his computer.
“[M]y brother originally set up my Microsoft Word – my brother’s name is Mark Greenburg that is why it says Mark Greenburg as opposed to my name Jann-Michael Greenburg,” stated Jann-Michael.
Nearly 50 parents and political opponents were targeted in the dossier, which reads like opposition research (“oppo research” for short) – a practice of gathering intelligence on political opponents. Folders were either given the names of their subjects, themes of where they fell in his mind (such as “crazy” or “faith-based”), or musings of what kinds of action the creator could take with their contents: for example, “false and defamatory” follows after the names of some parents.
This wouldn’t be Mark’s first foray into conducting oppo research and attacks against Jann-Michael’s political enemies. According to AZ Central, Mark created a parody website and Twitter account in 2018 for previous SUSD Governing Board President Barbara Perleberg. At the time, Jann-Michael was running to join the board; Perleberg wasn’t a candidate. Jann-Michael defended the website, and criticized Perleberg for initially pursuing a defamation lawsuit against his father.
That would count as the second instance of shared computer activity. According to a court subpoena, Mark’s computer was also used to purchase the website for Jann-Michael’s campaign. Yet, Mark denied both purchasing the website for and being involved in his son’s campaign.
That parody website is still active, though the Twitter account was deleted. In fact, it appears that Mark (or another individual granted access to the site) continued to post on the blog after Jann-Michael’s election; the latest post was published August 2020.
YIKES: Here's the father of Scottsdale Unified school board president Jann-Michael Greenburg, secretly taking bodycam footage of parents on school property and saying he hired a "private investigator who is writing down all their [license] plates." pic.twitter.com/CXt5dJDtKg
Mark’s latest creation, the dossier, went into great detail. Beyond collections of political Facebook posts, Mark collected records of nursing licenses, divorces, mortgages, family trees, bankruptcies, civil and criminal charges, and a slew of other personal information. It appears that Mark went so far as to file a complaint against one nurse for opposing masks, according to a screenshot. He also included pictures and videos of the children of his perceived political opposition. Mark made sure to note in one file name that the wife of one of his political opponents had an elementary school student. The associated picture was from a social media post highlighting the child’s disability.
Parents and children weren’t the only targets: acclaimed black conservative radio host James T. Harris appeared in the dossier. Harris’s picture with children outside a school board meeting was included, as well as a video he’d posted. Harris addressed his inclusion in a video on Wednesday, likening the dossier to another incident recently uncovered in Chandler where Chandler Unified School District (CUSD) board members coordinated with police to address parents against masks.
“Today on my radio show I found out how deep this thing goes,” said Harris. “Why do these school board members feel the necessity to get information on tax-paying citizens. All we want to do is make sure that our kids are being taught, […] that our kids aren’t being indoctrinated.”
One of the mothers targeted, Amy Carney, called for Jann-Michael’s resignation. A mother of six, Carney is also running for a seat on SUSD’s governing board in 2022.
“I am calling for the immediate resignation of our board president Jann-Michael Greenburg,” asserted Carney. “We cannot allow anyone in a leadership position to secretly compile personal documents and information on moms and dads who have dared speak out publicly or on social media about their grievances with the district.”
Another mother, Heather Rooks, was in complete shock upon discovering the dossier.
“Calls into question: who the real domestic terrorists are here?” said Rooks. “I didn’t know anything about this until late last night. Me and my husband looked it over. It was pretty shocking to see that much information on a file about multiple parents… I wouldn’t even know where to begin because I’m still processing it. I get it, with people who are running for school boards now, but this is completely different. This is parents and their kids, background information, very personal stuff that is all shared on the file. What was he planning on doing with it? What purpose does this serve, to go after parents who are concerned for their kids?”
After the Greenburgs were confronted about the dossier, reports show that someone changed accessibility from public to private. SUSD confirmed in an email to parents on Wednesday that Mark was behind the dossier. They also assured parents that their privacy would be protected.
The dossier does have one other direct tie to Jann-Michael: a PDF download of an email sent to Jann-Michael’s SUSD email account through Outlook, a web app often used by professionals and organizations for email and file storage. The PDF download identified Jann-Michael as the original source – all of the emails and links are clickable, which occurs when an email is downloaded as a PDF from Outlook. The bottom of the PDF also shows the source as this link, https://mail.susd.org/owa/#path=/mail/inbox, which is an SUSD professional email account.
Legal experts say that the dossier may be a violation of Arizona’s Parents Bill of Rights. In a statement, lawyer Alexander Kolodin explained that even Jann-Michael’s tacit consent of certain personal items in the dossier such as those obtained through Mark’s bodycam video would pose a violation.
“These allegations are deeply troubling, especially as concerns the photography of a minor child without parental consent and the taking down of license plate numbers of parents who Mr. Greenberg supposedly perceived as political opponents. Mr. Greenberg is an elected member of the school board. If such a photograph was taken with his express or tacit consent, he would potentially be liable for violations of Arizona’s Parents’ Bill of Rights, which recognizes a parent’s “fundamental” right to consent before the government makes a video or voice recording of the minor child. In addition, it has been reported that Mr. Greenberg’s father undertook these acts while he kept his face hidden under a helmet and was wearing motorcycle gear. Both Arizona and the federal government have laws prohibiting both intimidation generally and voter intimidation in particular such as ARS Titles 13 and 16, the Ku Klux Klan Act of 1871, the Civil Rights Act of 1957, and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. If these allegations are true, Mr. Greenberg and his father might be liable for violating one or more of these laws – though it is difficult to say from the limited facts that have been reported and they must, of course, be presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.“
The dossier also included multiple uncategorized bodycam videos recorded by Mark doing various things: eating in a cafe, riding his motorcycle, and even waiting outside a school board meeting. In one video, Mark adjusted his motorcycle gear with his helmet on.
The incognito Mark then walks into a kitchen, where Jann-Michael is seen eating at a table; he looks up at Mark and says “Hi, Dad.” The conversation that follows sounded like Mark and Jann-Michael were talking about legal strategy about a parent.
“We can file a verified complaint,” said Mark. “In other words, like it would start out with her allegation about Frank Graham saying, ‘Of course this isn’t true.’ She messaged Frank Graham.”
“Why not just go solely on the complaint that she filed?” asked Jann-Michael.
“That’s in her letter,” said Mark. “Way before that are her statements about how she’s, like, doing anything she can do to, like, ruin you.”
Jann-Michael received a law degree from the University of Edinburgh in Scotland. He passed the New York Bar upon returning to the U.S., and assumed a position as Director of Legal Services at an international music licensing firm based in Arizona: Tresona, the company his father chairs.
In one screen recording of a parent advocacy Facebook group, Mark and Jann-Michael were recorded discussing what Mark was doing. Mark explained that he was recording Facebook parent commentary on Jann-Michael’s critics and political opponents.
“I’m making a movie, a screen movie for you,” explained Mark.
Jann-Michael doesn’t question why. That’s consistent with his other responses to Mark’s actions against political opponents. Jann-Michael hasn’t questioned why his father would create the dossier. He’s only categorically denied his involvement.
Arizona parents promptly pushed back against the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) announcement Monday that the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and U.S. Attorney’s Offices would investigate the trend of protests against school boards and other staff. The DOJ indicated that it would create a task force to accomplish this goal.
In a memorandum, Garland cited a “disturbing spike in harassment, intimidation, and threats of violence” against public school staff nationwide. Garland explained that the FBI and law enforcement leaders would brainstorm reporting mechanisms and strategies to address violence, threats of violence, harassment, intimidation against public school staff. Nowhere in either the announcement or letter did the DOJ or Garland call those responsible for the purported spike in harassment, intimidation, and threats, “domestic terrorists.”
“Threats against public servants are not only illegal, they run counter to our nation’s core values. Those who dedicate their time and energy to ensuring that our children receive a proper education in a safe environment deserve to be able to work without fear for their safety,” wrote Garland. “The Department takes these incidents seriously and is committed to using its authority and resources to discourage these threats, identify them when they occur, and prosecute them when appropriate.”
A coalition of moms, West Valley Parents Uniting, said it was hypocritical for Attorney General Merrick Garland and the Biden Administration to highlight parents as a national threat while largely ignoring the rising rates of violent crime, human trafficking, and migrant encounters. Founders Heather Rooks and Devon Updegraff-Day submitted a joint statement to AZ Free News in response to the DOJ announcement.
“Administrators, school board members, and teachers are not the victims. The children are the victims! They have always been the victims; our children have been used as pawns for twisted political games for decades and parents have finally had enough […] The Biden Administration can issue warnings to parents and threaten legal recourse all they want; parents will never be made silent! Parents have the right and will always have the right to speak out against ANYTHING they deem inappropriate or detrimental to their child’s well-being; that is what being a parent is all about. The Biden Administration needs to get their tail out from between their legs and fight against real threats in America and stop trying to create distractions. Criminal conduct behavior is widespread, but one of the few places where it is not occurring is at school board meetings!”
While some issued formal statements, others opted to issue a prompt response on Twitter.
Pam Kirby, Republican Party of Arizona and Latinos for Trump Advisory Board Member, promised to continue rallying at school board meetings.
Yet another user claimed it was hypocritical of Democrats to crack down on parents at school board meetings but condone the behavior of illegal immigrants and activists who chased and filmed Senator Kyrsten Sinema into a bathroom.
“While leftists in office applaud those that chased, harassed [and] recorded a female elected official in a bathroom, they call parents using the normal channels of public meetings ‘radical extremists’ and accuse them of ‘infiltrating’ open meetings.”
The Biden Administration’s DOJ hasn’t issued any similar statements to other, more organized movements like the local Antifa-aligned groups, whose members have exhibited repeat patterns of actively threatening and engaging in violence.
Opposition to the DOJ’s announcement even came from some school officials. One vocal advocate for affording full transparency to parents, Litchfield Elementary School District (LESD) Board Member Jeremy Hoenack, told AZ Free News that he was disappointed with the DOJ’s response.
“It’s highly disturbing that the President’s Administration seems to think that parents don’t count,” said Hoenack.
Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco defended the DOJ’s initiative before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday. The committee hearing itself wasn’t focused on the DOJ announcement, but Senator Josh Hawley (R-MO) insisted that Monaco answer for it.