COVID-19 mandates, CRT fuel conflict at board meeting

WakeUp D99 brings nationwide concerns to DG

CRT+Is+Racism%3A+Members+of+WakeUp+D99+gather+at+Oct.18+board+meeting+to+voice+their+Critical+Race+Theory+and+mask+policy+concerns.

Tabitha Irvin

“CRT Is Racism”: Members of WakeUp D99 gather at Oct.18 board meeting to voice their Critical Race Theory and mask policy concerns.

By Tabitha Irvin, Downers Grove North High School

At District 99’s latest Board of Education meeting on Oct. 18, the topic of discussion revolved around the proposed semi-block schedule for the 2022-23 school year. Those who spoke during the public reception of visitors immediately shifted the conversation to national politics. Dominated by local group WakeUp D99, the meeting transformed into a debate between visitors wearing red and those wearing blue.

Laura Hois, who lost her 2020 bid to represent District 81 in the Illinois House of Representatives, is a core member of WakeUp D99. She has a son who currently attends DGN, and is a regular speaker at BOE Meetings. She believes it is District 99’s responsibility to be transparent about what curriculum is taught during class. 

“[WakeUp D99 has] been addressing the board now for six months. We’re seeking to understand what’s happening in our schools. We have made email requests, FOIA requests, and direct requests for information; we’ve gotten a few answers but we’ve dealt with a lot of resistance to disclosure of information. We simply need to know what educators are being told to teach our kids,” Hois said during the Oct. 18 meeting.

WakeUp D99 Goals 

According to their website, WakeUp D99 focuses on three main goals. They work to ban the teaching of critical race theory and the National Sex Education Standards, and to challenge COVID-19 masks and vaccine mandates. 

Currently, District 99 follows masking protocols mandated by Governor J.B. Pritzker, adheres to sexual education content decided by the BOE, and has denied teaching CRT.  

This movement is not unique to DuPage county; a NBC News Analysis determined that at least 165 groups like WakeUp D99 exist, all with the primary goal to disrupt lessons on race and challenge health protocols. 

Info-graphic that defines common acronyms used throughout the story.

Newly formed Parents Defending Education, for example, fights “indoctrination in the classroom” by providing parents with the resources to effectively launch local organizations, submit FOIA requests, and challenge school board members. No Left Turn, another group with national influence, aims to “restore American patriotism in the classroom” and to support parents who challenge school curricula. 

WakeUp D99 has been active at District 99 BOE meetings since May, according to Hois, and has consistently presented multiple members to speak on behalf of the group. Bearing red shirts and displaying signs, WakeUp D99 members have dominated the reception of visitors portion of board meetings. 

COVID-19 Mandates

“I’m not willing to give up my fundamental civil liberties for the false narrative and mass psychosis that is COVID-19. I refuse to perpetuate what’s become a two-tier discriminatory system based on a perceived health status. That’s the real COVID-19 threat, the slippery slope that threatens our freedoms more than it does our health,” district resident Marcella Cheauré said Oct. 18. 

Another speaker, Paul Drabik, expanded on views introduced by Cheauré stating that the district’s COVID-19 protocols “read like something out of Animal Farm or 1984” and that these measures are “draconian,” or comparable to the Athenian code of law that punished small offenses with disproportionately heavy punishments. 

Noel Manley, another WakeUp D99 member who spoke at the Oct. 18 meeting, stated that the  government’s “pointless mask mandates” would make “old Joseph Stalin proud.” An anti-communist agenda was present throughout the WakeUp D99 speeches. 

Critical Race Theory

Another topic important to WakeUp D99 is CRT, an acronym for critical race theory. District 99 BOE members insist that critical race theory is not taught at DGN or DGS. Those involved in WakeUp D99, however, take a different position. 

WakeUp D99 is convinced that the district’s professional training in diversity is a disguised form of CRT.  This training, known as SEED, or Seeking Educational Equity and Diversity, is a national organization that partners with schools to drive “personal, institutional, and societal change toward social justice.” 

“We find critical race theory to be alive and well in District 99, undermining our institutions by indoctrinating children and foregoing any critical thinking,” Noel Manley said. 

With the goal of analyzing the role of race and diversity in America, CRT teaches that racism has been perpetuated in the United States government since its founding. It also asserts that certain races are in positions of power due to this system. 

WakeUp D99 believes that these ideologies do not improve diversity, but rather promote neo-segregation, racism, and collective guilt. Cynthia Hopkins, a resident of Hinsdale and immigrant from an impoverished community in China, pleaded for the BOE to reject critical race theory. 

“White supremacists discriminate against me based on the CRT and I find it to be an insult to my intelligence. CRT is insulting to accomplished minorities. It automatically categorizes us into victimhood instead of giving us the credit we deserve. I don’t need the elite to feed me fake derogatory sympathy. They’re not my saviors. CRT degrades hard-working minority families. Once you take their dignity and pride away, what’s left?” Hopkins said.

Facing Opposition

WakeUp D99’s presence at school board meetings is not unchallenged, however. Throughout the Oct. 18 meeting, and in prior BOE gatherings, community members dressed in blue extended their thanks to the BOE members. Some, like DGN parent Mary Lemanski, have directly opposed the opinions of WakeUp D99 members regarding controversial issues such as COVID-19 masking protocols. 

“After speaking last month at the meeting, the people behind me [Wake-Up D99 members] wrote a five-part blog post about my conversation. In seeing they don’t know what they’re talking about, I decided [to] do a side-by-side comparison with the [COVID-19] numbers from last month with the numbers from this month,” Lemanski said. 

Also in opposition to the agenda set forth by WakeUp D99 is Margaret Brownliese. Like many others fighting against WakeUp D99, Brownliese believes the organization was not only created to affect school board policy, but also to change the fabric of American government.  In her speech, Brownliese cited author and historian Timothy Synder to support an implication connecting WakeUp D99 to tyrannical motives. 

“A book written by Snyder, On Tyranny discusses 20 ways to break down democracy. Number two was to destroy all institutions. I’m wondering if some of the controversies that I’ve observed are really about healthy choices and freedom or are they a more contrived movement to break down an institution that is part of our local governance?” Brownliese said. 

BOE Meeting Security

According to National Public Radio, BOE meetings around the United States have become aggressive, resulting in violence and police involvement. Due to this, heat and controversy at BOE meetings are no longer a foreign concept in any district. Earlier in the school year, a man who lives in Mendon, Illinois was arrested for aggravated battery and disorderly conduct at a board meeting. While an incident of this nature hasn’t occurred at a D99 BOE event, the atmosphere has made some board members cautious.

“Before the board meetings, like the first couple times when it was really intense, [BOE members] would be like, ‘Okay, if something happens, there’s an exit right here, there’s police officers [over] there, so grab your stuff and get out of here as quick as you can,’” DGN Student Board Representative Jade Toledano said in an interview after the Oct. 18 meeting. 

Scarlett O’Hara, DGS’s Student Board Representative, added that after the first couple meetings, she was escorted to her car by security and BOE members. Even though O’Hara feels like “no one prepared [her] enough for that,” she appreciates the help from her support system. 

“They [BOE members] talk to us after every meeting, and our principals will email us, check-in, and make sure that everything’s going okay,” O’Hara said. 

Toledano agreed with O’Hara that she too trusts and can rely on BOE members. Still, Toledano becomes anxious at every board meeting, regardless of whether each speaker is in red or blue. 

“It doesn’t really matter what side it is but I feel like it’s always a bit intense, and I think it never gets easier. Every time someone goes out there to talk, they look at you and you feel like they’re looking into your soul. Oh, it’s terrifying,” Toledano said.

Threats and violence against school boards on a nationwide scale have been addressed by the National School Boards Association, who wrote a letter to President Joe Biden asking for federal law enforcement assistance. In their letter, NSBA referred to BOE meeting dissenters  as domestic terrorists, among other things. 

Within five days, the United States’ attorney general issued a directive for the FBI and other organizations to invegstite the NSBA claims of domestic terrorism. 

“These heinous actions could be the equivalent to a form of domestic terrorism and hate crimes. As such, NSBA requests a joint expedited review by the U.S. Departments of Justice… with the appropriate training, coordination, investigations, and enforcement mechanisms from the FBI,” the letter said.

This provided WakeUp D99 with another reason to criticize local board members, all of whom are a part of the NSBA.

Drabik, who opposes the content within the NSBA’s letter, started his Oct 18 speech by saying hello to both the FBI and DOJ. He then continued to address the NSBA’s letter during the reception of visitors and in a subsequent conversation after the interview. 

“Don’t worry, I’ll submit my recommendation that you resign from the National School Board Association for calling parents domestic terrorists. Do the right thing. You work for the taxpayer. For our part, we will continue to be the voice in opposition to the true domestic terrorists: our government.” Drabik said. 

Class Action Lawsuit

WakeUp D99 has also been in recent collaboration with other like-minded groups and individuals in Illinois. Backed by WakeUp D99 and over 700 parents, attorney Thomas DeVore filed a class action lawsuit regarding COVID-19 mask usage against the Illinois State Board of Education, the Illinois Department of Public Health, Governor J.B. Pritzker, and 145 Illinois school districts. Community District 99 is included in the lawsuit. 

The lawsuit is supported by WakeUp D99 from both an ideological and monetary standpoint. Under the title, “Support the class action lawsuit against masks” WakeUp D99 raised $5,520 to cover the plaintiff(s) legal fees, surpassing their original goal of $5,000. The case will be heard Nov. 5 in Macoupin County, Illinois.

This story was originally published on DGN Omega on November 10, 2021.