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Analysis: Moms for Liberty is running candidates for school board races in Ohio

two women, one in a red suit and white shirt and the other in a blue suit and white shirt - both with black shoulder-length hair - stand at a podium with a sign that reads "moms for liberty" and standing in front of the constitution on a screen behind them
Matt Rourke
Moms for Liberty co-founders Tina Descovich, left, and Tiffany Justice speak at the Moms for Liberty meeting in Philadelphia, Friday, June 30, 2023.

There was a time, not long ago, when local school board races were rather sleepy affairs, almost an afterthought, where candidates competed for attention mainly with yard signs and the occasional candidate forum.

In 2023, though, they are more than that.

Very often these days, school board races are Ground Zero in the culture wars.

It is true in Hamilton County, where a right-wing national organization called Moms for Liberty has eight candidates running in six public school districts.

You may walk into your polling place and not be aware that you are being asked to vote on a school board race that includes candidates endorsed by a group that has been described as an "anti-government extremist" organization by the Southern Poverty Law Center, which keeps track of extremist groups in in the U.S. It added Moms for Liberty to its 2022 list of more than 1,200 hate and extremist groups around the country.

"It's more important than ever that voters do some research before voting in school board races," said Nate Brown, state organizing director for Honesty For Ohio Education, a nonprofit opposed to censorship of history, race, sexuality, and gender identity in Ohio public schools.

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Here's what the Southern Poverty Law Center had to say about Moms for Liberty:

"Moms for Liberty and its nationwide chapters combat what they consider the 'woke indoctrination' of children by advocating for book bans in school libraries and endorsing candidates for public office that align with the group's views. They also use their multiple social media platforms to target teachers and school officials, advocate for the abolition of the Department of Education, advance a conspiracy propaganda, and spread hateful imagery and rhetoric against the LGBTQ community."

What is Moms for Liberty?

Moms for Liberty is a nonprofit organization that describes itself as being for "parental control" of children's education, but, in its rhetoric and actions, calls for the censorship of history (particularly Black history), book banning, the end of DEI training and attacks on LGBTQ+ rights.

Moms for Liberty was founded by Tina Descovich and Tiffany Justice, two mothers and former school board members in Brevard County, Florida.

It began during the COVID pandemic, when the founders of Moms for Liberty started pushing back against mask mandates in schools.

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The group claims to have 299 chapters in 46 states with 120,000 members.

They are alive and well and throughout Ohio. Here are the candidates Moms for Liberty has endorsed in Hamilton County school districts:

  • Northwest Local School District: Christine Colliver, Nancy Slattery
  • Madeira City Schools: Kim Heath, Anita Grolmes
  • Oak Hills Local School District: Lisa Ibold
  • Cincinnati Public Schools: Paul Schiele
  • Loveland City School District: Linda Cecil
  • Forest Hills School District: Kevin Comerford

All but Cecil are also endorsed by the Hamilton County Republican Party as well.

Kimberly Georgeton, an organizer for Moms for Liberty in Hamilton County, wouldn’t comment except to say that, prior to the endorsements, Moms for Liberty distributed 6,000 pocket U.S. Constitutions to eighth graders throughout the Cincinnati area.

Georgeton cited a pending lawsuit and referred WVXU to the national organization for comment on the nonprofit's goals and beliefs. The right-wing Heritage Foundation filed a lawsuit in September on behalf of Moms for Liberty against the Biden administration, accusing government agencies of conspiring with the Southern Policy Law Center.

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But the national organization did not respond to WVXU's requests for an interview.

In September, a few weeks before the lawsuit was filed, Moms for Liberty co-founder Tiffany Justice railed against the designation by the Southern Poverty Law Center, claiming it was defamatory.

"The SPLC’s designation places Moms for Liberty alongside neo-Nazi and white supremacist groups, as well as conservative Christian groups such as the Family Research Council, an example of critics’ observation that the SPLC often conflates mainstream conservatives and activists with racists and bigots," Justice said on the Moms for Liberty website.

"The designation is being used widely by the media," Justice said. "There are people, liberal activists, that are using it to try to hurt our chapters, to try to hurt our moms. The SPLC has put a target on the back of every American mom and dad. Shame on them."

Nate Brown said his organization, Honesty for Ohio Education, is a 501(c)(3) and can't endorse candidates.

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"But we do have a candidate research guide on our website, where you can find information on every school board candidate in Ohio, including their endorsements," Brown said.

"We're not telling people how to vote,'' he continued. "But we believe that our children have to feel safe and loved in their schools."

Moms for Liberty is an organization that is "degrading our democracy. They play to division, anger and ignorance," Brown said.

"We just encourage people to think about their own values before they vote."

Howard Wilkinson is in his 50th year of covering politics on the local, state and national levels.