For Barrett, fighting for parents’ rights has been transformative—and nearly a full-time job.
Rhode Island mother Laurie Gaddis Barrett has testified at so many legislative hearings that she has to pause to remember which one I’m asking her about.
And when I ask her why the message she just texted me is written in legalese, she says she’s spent so much time talking to lawyers, she’s beginning to sound like one herself. (I almost suggested she should consider going to law school, but they’re woke now, too.) With all she has learned this past year, she could be teaching civics.
For Barrett, fighting for parents’ rights has been transformative—and nearly a full-time job.
But it wasn’t always.
Before the pandemic, Barrett, a resident of Glocester, had never attended a local school committee meeting. She was a hands-on parent when it came to everyday classroom activities, on the scene for chaperoning school trips and engaged at PTO meetings. She was the mother who saw to it that there were tissues and Lysol wipes in her daughter’s classroom when they became needed. She was that mom. But she never had a reason to go to the local meetings.
Once COVID hit, however, things changed. And not only for Barrett, but for parents everywhere. When schools closed and children were sent home for the long haul two years ago, they weren’t the only ones learning on Zoom. Their parents, it turns out, were getting a real education.
As classes shifted to online sessions, parents all over the country could see what their children were learning and who was teaching it to them. Many also got a first-time glimpse of their school boards, as Zoom made it possible for them to attend meetings from the comfort of home. While schools were closed for COVID, parents may well have learned more about them—and the people who run them—than had the virus never happened at all.
What they discovered these past two years was a wake-up call: Critical race theory has poisoned the classroom, pitting children against one and other and their teachers based on skin color. School library shelves display pornography. And there are no “boys” and “girls” anymore, because gender is “fluid.” School curricula have become so woke these days that teachers barely have time to teach the three “R’s.”
My crusade is against every, all, & any of the tenets and pillars of #CriticalRaceTheory in K-12 in all forms & formats, whether openly practiced, hidden or embedded in any curriculum, lesson plan. Wherever it appears, at any time, in any manner, for any reason, by any code name.
— Laurie (@laurieinri) August 10, 2021
Barrett recalls when her own switch flipped, in March 2021: She was watching legislative hearings on Capitol TV, when up popped a bill to introduce a “pleasure-based” sex ed program into the school curriculum. “I watched the testimony and I just kind of lost my mind,” she says. That was when she started reaching out to other parents, locally and statewide. She began attending local school committee meetings, at first on Zoom and by the summer in person.
COVID School Shutdowns Unite Parents — We Have Our Own Union Now #getready
One of the surely unintended consequences of the school shutdowns was that they “awakened a sleeping giant.” Parents across the country, frustrated by their children’s lost time in the classroom, began contacting one another and comparing their own notes.
Rhode Island parents are leading that nationwide trend: “There really is a growing movement of parents who are awake now,” Barrett recently testified. “We figured out what’s going on in these schools during distance learning and we’re not happy with the way that it’s going. … We heard these things and we started asking questions.” And then they mobilized.
She describes parents like herself coming together in Rhode Island:
Parents … who just recently became aware of the state of things and are determined to make change at the local level. These are people that a year or even two years ago never went to a school committee meeting. And now they know all about Roberts Rules of Order. Now they know how to do a public records request. Now they know what changes they want to see, and they are determined to help shape those changes.
By the end of the summer, Barrett and other parents had formed a parents union (not to be confused with ParentsUnitedRI; more on that later). They focused on fighting the upcoming (and unscientific) COVID masking mandates set for the fall.
At first parents were optimistic, because Rhode Island’s Governor had left masking policies up to the local school committees. That was good news for Barrett’s school district, where the parents have a strong working relationship with the committee members: They see one another all the time, at the grocery store and on the ball field, and their children go to school together. There is genuine accountability.
So when the parents lobbied the school committee to craft a mask-optional policy, they passed it—only to be reversed by the Governor’s executive order at the end of August last year. The authority yielded to the local districts by one hand was taken back by the other, as the order imposed universal school masking statewide.
Parents Union Challenges the Mask Mandates – No Amount of “Irreparable Harm” to Children is Okay
By September, though, the parents union was organized, expanded—and lawyered up. They sued the Governor over the mask mandates in a case that is still ongoing, Southwell v. McKee.
The parents first sought emergency relief from the mandates in a motion for a preliminary injunction, which the court denied in November of last year. While the judge acknowledged that masking caused “some irreparable harm” to children, the plaintiffs had failed to meet the other three legal requirements for an injunction. So the masks stayed on.
But parents whose children suffer any amount of “irreparable harm” don’t want to hear about four-part legal tests. They were outraged. So was state Representative David Place. He argued in a debate last month on the House floor where the court’s opinion in Southwell was read aloud and held up for scrutiny: “SOME irreparable harm to our kids is okay?” he exclaimed. “I don’t buy that!” No normal parent would.
The Governor has argued that the court should dismiss the case as moot, because the mandates were lifted on March 4th. But the plaintiffs are not backing down. Barrett believes the defendants are trying to wriggle out of discovery—discovery that will expose the utter lack of “science” to justify the mandates. And, just as importantly, they want to see to it that the Governor can never abuse his emergency powers again to force schoolchildren to wear masks.
As their lawsuit progressed, parents realized they needed better representation in local school committees, town councils, and in the state legislature. So, together with other parents, and independent of the litigation, Barrett formed a new group, #ParentsUnitedRI. They focus on running a slate of candidates who will defend their core belief: “that parents – not government ideologues – have the moral and legal right” to determine their children’s education.
Taking it to the Legislature – And Told to Take a Hike
Barrett made that point last month when she testified in support of the Rhode Island Parents Bill of Rights Act – a bill, she said, that “states things that should be obvious: that children belong to their parents” and that parents “should be able to direct and participate in the education of [their] children.”
She was angry that the school nurse can’t give her child an aspirin without her permission but can call her child by a different gender without her ever knowing. Or that parents who attend school committee meetings could be reported as “domestic terrorists.” “We’re getting stomped on all over the place,” she said, and “we have been pushed to the absolute limit.”
But as Barrett’s time testifying drew to a close, the whole point of the Act—that the state should defer to the parents, and not the other way around— seemed lost on at least one member of the legislature. Representative Jason Knight suggested that if she was unhappy, she should just “vote with [her] feet” – and move. “But why should I have to leave my home?!” Barrett protested. She says she was “floored.” Telling a mother to take a hike hardly conveys deference to parents.
Social Media Campaigns
When Barrett isn’t busy with suing the government or staring down members of the state legislature, she’s at war on social media: Politicians, school board members, bureaucrats – all are in her crosshairs.
One of her targets is Rhode Island Commissioner of Education Angelica Infante-Green, whom Barrett calls “the most toxic influence on kids that Rhode Island has ever seen.”
She describes how at a recent meeting, Infante-Green handed out stickers that said “Our Kids”—suggesting the kids belong to the Commissioner of Education or the teachers. Last week, she called out Infante-Green for going about maskless in the same school buildings where kids were forced to mask, reminding everyone that “Children belong to their parents, not unelected govt workers.”
Children belong to their parents, not unelected govt workers.
A horror story in 4 pix. pic.twitter.com/4hD7F8EEDQ
— Laurie (@laurieinri) March 17, 2022
Progressive state Representative Justine Caldwell is another politician wreaking havoc on parent’s rights. When Caldwell pulled the “expert” card at a recent hearing, Barrett took to Twitter to alert parents. She seized on Caldwell’s tone-deaf comments that “experts,” not parents, should determine “what goes on” in their children’s curriculum. And what if “what goes on” is a lesson in sexual perversion? Caldwell blurs the distinction between conventional morality—traditionally the parents’ domain—and subjects such as math and reading, in which experts may be entitled to deference.
Barrett thinks Caldwell failed to learn the lesson of Governor Glenn Youngkin’s victory last November in Virginia. In that race, incumbent Terry McAuliffe alienated his constituents when he said, “I don’t think parents should be telling schools what they should teach.” He was wrong, and the voters let him know it.
Holding Politicians to Account — Help is coming in November, kiddos. #Election2022 #parentswillprevail
Like the voters in Virginia, Barrett and her parents have their eye on the prize in November.
We can NEVER allow this to happen again.
On the plus side, these kids that were irreparably harmed during forced masking long past the time when we knew better are going to grow up with a healthy mistrust in big govt.
— Laurie (@laurieinri) March 13, 2022
They’re keeping track of who votes for what:
Politicians like Representative Caldwell, who gave parents reason to hope she would support mask-free schools, only to vote against it the next day:
On Feb 9, @Justine4RI signaled support for mask-free in K-12 schools.
On Feb 10, THE VERY NEXT DAY, she explicitly voted against an amendment that would have unmasked the children.#facts #Election2022 #parents in #RhodeIsland will remember. https://t.co/XURPVxvLO0 pic.twitter.com/gau0jPGQId
— Laurie (@laurieinri) March 8, 2022
Or take Representative Michelle McGaw. In February, Barrett caught her voting the wrong way on mask mandates:
“A vote to continue irreparable harm to children for two more months means Rep. McGaw has re-election risk. You are now on written record as willing to harm children. #parentsunion.”
Rep. McGaw, this you?
Pro tip: voters don't need credentials in public health, infectious disease, or epidemiology to make sure you don't get re-elected. All we need to do is show up and shut you out. #parentsunion pic.twitter.com/Pzsjvbgjp6
— Laurie (@laurieinri) February 1, 2022
And when Infante-Green decided to keep the mask mandate for Providence schools, Barrett fired another warning shot:
There was a time when the #OurKids messaging campaign never would have gotten off the ground. The basic principle embodied in the Rhode Island Parents Bill of Rights Act—that children belong to their parents, not the state—was understood by everyone. As the United States Supreme Court famously observed almost a hundred years ago, “the child is not the mere creature of the state; those who nurture him and direct his destiny have the right, coupled with the high duty, to recognize and prepare him for additional obligations.”
To protect our children, we should defer to the parents who “nurture” and “direct” them—not to the state.
Barrett sees Glenn Youngkin’s victory in Virginia as an encouraging sign for parents everywhere who want to take back their moral authority to nurture and direct their own children. And she is hopeful that Rhode Island parents, now awakened and organized, will indeed prevail in November. If she’s right, the winners will be the kids.DONATE
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