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Central Bucks School District high school student Leo Burchell waits for a school board meeting to start, opening his rainbow colored umbrella as it begins to rain in Doylestown, Pa., on Tuesday, Nov. 15, 2022. (AP Photo/Ryan Collerd)

Democratic candidates fed up with right-wing school boards landed victories in highly contested partisan races in Pennsylvania Tuesday night.

In a resounding rebuke of policies enacted in recent years by Republican-led boards, voters backed Democratic candidates, who swept school boards currently dominated by right-wing members in Bucks County’s Central Bucks School District and Pennridge School District, and Montgomery County’s Perkiomen Valley School District, according to unofficial election results.

“We stood for change,” Susan Gibson, a Democrat who won one of five seats on the Central Bucks School District board, told the Philadelphia Inquirer. “We did this with the community, for the community.”

The school boards flipped by Democrats have pushed policies that ban books centered around LGBTQ+ characters and people of color, force educators to notify parents about their child’s pronoun change, and dismantle diversity, equity and inclusive initiatives.

Democrats also swept five open seats on Lehigh County’s Southern Lehigh School Board. The Democratic victory in Southern Lehigh comes after the Republican candidates signed an anti-transgender pledge that they would require students to use the bathroom and locker room aligning with their biological sex.

Many of the policies pushed by the right-wing school boards and conservative candidates are rooted in, or influenced by, a national far-right group called Moms for Liberty. Founded in 2021, the group works to elect far-right candidates across the country. It has been labeled extremist by the Southern Poverty Law Center and is one of the most influential forces behind book bans in Pennsylvania and across the country.

Of the Pennsylvania candidates endorsed by Moms for Liberty in the 2023 election, 26 won and 24 lost, according to an American Independent analysis of unofficial election results. 

Right-wing school board members currently leading the Central Bucks and Pennridge districts have drawn national attention for banning pride flags in schools and pushing for bans on books that center LGBTQ+ characters and people of color. In Pennridge, board members enacted policies instructing teachers to not talk about the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection and adopted a new social studies curriculum crafted by a consultant with ties to Moms for Liberty and Hillsdale College and widely condemned by educators.

Pennridge parents who have been fighting the current board’s policies rejoiced at the news that Democrats will soon be in control.

“We are thrilled that the Pennridge Community came together to reject the extremist agenda of Moms for Liberty,” Jane Cramer, a Pennridge parent, told the American Independent. Cramer is a member of the Ridge Network, a newly formed group of parents and community members who work to combat extremism in Pennridge.

“So many people worked hard to spread the word about the issues on our school board through social media, letters to the editor, canvassing, organizing, media appearances and public comments at school board meetings,” Cramer continued. “We are especially grateful for our teachers. Several put their jobs on the line to speak out against this extremism. Let Pennridge be an example of communities fighting for real American values and inclusive education over extremism.”

Liz Mikitarian, a retired kindergarten teacher from Florida who is the founder of the national group Stop Moms for Liberty, applauded Tuesday’s election results.

“We are very pleased to see that several school board campaigns have been successful in unseating MFL-backed candidates and preventing other extremists from being elected,” Mikitarian told the American Independent. “We look forward to hearing that some of the damage in places like Bucks County, Pennsylvania, will now be addressed by inclusive and pro-public education newly seated board members.”

Mikitarian went on to note that Moms for Liberty and far-right candidates for school boards suffered political defeats nationwide.

“Overall, across the country, we are learning that MFL was not successful in taking over school boards as they had planned, and many more boards were flipped back to a more balanced approach to school leadership,” she said.

“We understand that our work is not finished because there are places where extremist candidates were able to fool the voters,” Mikitarian continued. “We will switch into accountability mode in those places. Saving the public school system from efforts to destroy it is our whole mission, and we will continue to say that Moms for Liberty does not speak for the majority of Americans.”

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