Parents Defending Education

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Parents Defending Education is a conservative 501(c)(3) non-profit organization based out of Virginia. They self-identify as "a national grassroots organization working to reclaim our schools from activists promoting harmful agendas. Through network and coalition building, investigative reporting, litigation, and engagement on local, state, and national policies, we are fighting indoctrination in the classroom-- and for the restoration of a healthy non-political education for our kids" according to the PDE website.[1] While they identify as a grassroots effort, their connection to the Koch network and conservative dark money affiliates has some opponents labeling them as "astroturf"-- "activism manufactured by powerful interests to look like grassroots organizing".[2] They support curricula that include "rigorous instruction in history, civics, literature, math, the sciences, and the ideas and values that enrich our country". They aim to discontinue the inclusion of curricula with "emphasis on students' group identities: race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation and gender".[3]

Parents Defending Education is part of a growing movement to privatize public school management. Truthout reported PDE President Nikki Neilly said in a podcast produced by DonorsTrust that "introducing competition to public education could be an exploitable 'pressure point'." Also according to Truthout, the school choice movement is "rooted in efforts to keep schools racially segregated, and still today these programs in effect maintain segregation by race, class and disability".[4]

Parents Defending Education's website includes information about filing a Freedom of Information Act Request, with the page's tagline reading, "sunshine is the best disinfectant!".[5] The website also provides a resolution template for school board's to prohibit the teaching of CRT.[6]

PDE opposes the factual teaching of racism in K-12 Schools,[7] teacher's unions,[8] school admissions processes that consider or acknowledge race,[9] and any discussion of gender identity or sexuality in schools.[10]

News and Controversy

PDE Fights to Prevent the Factual Teaching of Racism in Schools

PDE opposes the factual teaching of racism in schools by filing complaints against school districts with the US Department of Education. In one such complaint against Columbus City Schools in Columbus, Ohio they argue that in acknowledging systemic racism's permeative existence, the school district admits to being racist itself. They request a federal investigation on the grounds of violating the Civil Rights Act.[11] They have filed similar complaints against school districts across the country.

School District's PDE has filed complaints against as of June 2022:

  • Hudson School District (Hudson, Wisconsin)[12]
  • Jackson Public School District (Jackson, Michigan)[13]
  • Avonworth School District (Allegheny County, Pennsylvania)[14]
  • Manhattan Beach Unified School District (Manhattan Beach, California)[15]
  • Pickens Middle School (Pickens, South Carolina)[16]
  • Centennial Elementary School (Denver, Colorado)[17]
  • Downers Grove South High School (Downers Grove, Illinois)[18]
  • New York City Public Schools (New York, New York)[19]
  • Wellesley Public Schools (Wellesley, Massachusetts)[20]
  • Colombus City Schools (Columbus, Ohio)[21]
  • Webster Groves School District (Webster Groves, Missouri)[22]
  • Orange County Schools (Hillsborough, North Carolina)[23]
  • Hopkins Public Schools (Hopkins, Minnesota)[24]

PDE Supports Book Bans in School Libraries

In an opinion piece linked on the their website, PDE director of outreach Erika Sanzi wrote in support schools banning books that include content about gender identity, sexuality, critical race theory, mental health, or social commentary. She writes, "...as schools understandably clamor for more mental health support in schools, they also exacerbate the problem. Students are bombarded with texts, both assigned and recommended, that paint a painfully bleak and even dystopian picture of the world in which they live. Self-harm, suicide, and now gender ideology are constant themes...".[25]. She claims that "the schools are defending pornography by calling it 'inclusive'" when referring to books that include same-sex couples.

PDE Spread Misinformation about FBI Threat Tag

In an internal email from the Criminal Investigative Division and Counterterrorism Division of the FBI, personnel were told that due to a "spike in harassment, intimidation, and threats of violence against school administrators, board members, teachers, and staff... the Counterterrorism and Criminal Divisions created a threat tag, EDUOFFICIALS, to track instances of related threats". The purpose of the threat tag was to identify if there was "a federal nexus" to these incidents, but PDE reported "the FBI opened investigations in almost every region of the country using the EDUOFFICIALS threat tag".[26] This was part of what USA Today reported was a large-scale spread of misinformation surrounding the threat tag. While many posts online featured claims that the FBI would be investigating parents who protest school boards, the FBI released a statement assuring they have "never been in the business of investigating parents who speak out or policing speech at school board meetings" and that "the FBI's focus is on violence and threats of violence that potentially violate federal law"[27]

PDE Filed Amicus Brief in College Admissions Case

PDE filed an amicus brief in support of Students for Fair Admissions, Inc. in their cases against Harvard College and the University of North Carolina. These petitions for a writ of certiorari would have overturned the 2003 ruling of Grutter v. Bollinger, which upheld affirmative action policies. In their brief, PDE said, "Grutter has spawned increasing racial discrimination and division that has reached beyond college admissions to infect K-12 schools nationwide...as long as Grutter remains the law, K-12 schools will face an inexorable pressure to discriminate based on skin color. These schools want to send their students to colleges like Harvard and UNC. And they know that elite colleges discriminate based on race, especially against Asian-Americans. So they will do whatever they can to mirror that discrimination, thereby increasing the chances that they will send students to these colleges."[28]

PDE Staff Vocal against Mask Mandates in Schools

PDE director of outreach Erika Sanzi tweeted her contempt for masking mandates[29] and PDE has partnered with Moms for Liberty[30], an organization with strong anti-masking initiatives.[31]

PDE's Transphobic Initiative

PDE, along with 27 other organizations, submitted a letter to Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona in opposition to Title IX changes and the inclusion of gender identity language into the regulations. In the letter, they contest "the prohibition against discrimination on the basis of 'gender identity'". They write, "Who is now male and female? Anyone can be anything they want-- an individual may simply 'identify' as one, or none, or one of an ever-expanding menu of 'gender identities' promoted by activists."[32]

The undersigned groups included:

  • Parents Defending Education
  • American Education Advocates
  • Army of Parents, Inc.
  • Awake Illinois
  • CACAGNY
  • California Foundation for Equal Rights
  • Child Protection League
  • Citizens for Brandywine School District
  • Concerned Parents of Round Rock ISD
  • Fight for Schools
  • Fishers One
  • Louisiana Save Our Schools
  • Mequon-Thiensville Restore
  • Moms for Liberty
  • New Trier Neighbors
  • No Left Turn in Education
  • Ohio Values Voters
  • Oregonians for Liberty in Education
  • Parents Unite
  • Parents Union
  • Protect Ohio Children
  • Protect Our Kids Now
  • Push Back Idaho
  • Save Oregon Schools
  • Truth in Education
  • Utah Parents United
  • West Valley Parents Uniting

PDE's Fight against Affinity Groups

In an article titled "Why anti-racism should be resisted", former Vice President of Strategy and Investigations Asra Nomani equates affinity groups in schools to the segregation of Jim Crow laws.[33] Parents Defending Education filed a lawsuit against Wellesley Public Schools, "alleging the district has discriminated against white students by creating affinity groups for communities of color".[34] Despite evidence that affinity groups are beneficial in the educational setting,[35] the lawsuit ended in a settlement agreement, with Wellesley Public School's discontinuing their policies prohibiting students from joining affinity groups in which they do not belong.[36]

PDE Opposes Bias Response Teams in Schools

In an article titled "Read, Writing, Ratting Each Other Out", PDE president Nicole Neily writes about the implementation of bias response teams, which respond to reports of bias, discrimination, and harassment in schools and workplaces. Many schools provide students with a portal through which they can submit incident reports concerning bias, sand Neily calls this practice "devious and unconstitutional". She says, "Creating the expectation that authority figures can-- or should-- adjudicate all interpersonal disputes isn't just denying children the opportunity to develop better interpersonal skills. It's also a slippery slope to big government, which by necessity must expand to fulfill this new role."[37]

Ties to the Koch Network

PDE President Nicole Neily is closely affiliated with the Koch network, having worked for the Franklin News Foundation and the Cato Institute, FreedomWorks, serving as a Koch fellow for the Competitive Enterprise Institute and the Center for Financial Privacy and Human Rights, and serving as a board member for Young Voices and Young Americans for Liberty.[38]

Due to its close ties to the Koch network, PDE has been deemed "astroturf" by many activists for its manufactured grassroots appearance.[39] PDE provides a map on its website to show viewers its network of "grassroots" organizations, but as author Maurice Cunningham reports, "Two organizations dominate the 'grassroots' network: state affiliates of No Left Turn in Education and Moms for Liberty." As of April 2021, neither has obtained non-profit status from the IRS, and Cunningham writes, "Both are put up jobs to populate PDE's map and give the appearance of local support. PDE provides links to the Facebook or websites of their "members" so we can see that most of these groups were formed in March or February 2021, rarely earlier. It's a set up."[40]

Koch Wiki

Charles Koch is the right-wing billionaire owner of Koch Industries. As one of the richest people in the world, he is a key funder of the right-wing infrastructure, including the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and the State Policy Network (SPN). In SourceWatch, key articles on Charles Koch and his late brother David include: Koch Brothers, Americans for Prosperity, Stand Together Chamber of Commerce, Stand Together, Koch Family Foundations, Koch Universities, and I360.

Ties to the American Legislative Exchange Council

PDE President Nicole Neily spoke at ALEC's 2021 States and Nation Policy Summit on "Parental Rights in K-12 Education."[41]

About ALEC
ALEC is a corporate bill mill. It is not just a lobby or a front group; it is much more powerful than that. Through ALEC, corporations hand state legislators their wishlists to benefit their bottom line. Corporations fund almost all of ALEC's operations. They pay for a seat on ALEC task forces where corporate lobbyists and special interest reps vote with elected officials to approve “model” bills. Learn more at the Center for Media and Democracy's ALECexposed.org, and check out breaking news on our ExposedbyCMD.org site.

Funding

Funding for PDE is not publicly available until late 2022.

Core Financials

Core Financials for PDE are not publicly available since it was formed in January 2021.

Personnel

Staff Members

As of June 2022:[42]

  • Nicole "Nikki" Neily, President
  • Erika Sanzi, Director of Outreach
  • Marissa Fallon, Director of Advocacy
  • Mailyn Salabarria, Director of Community Engagement
  • Aimee Viana, Distinguished Education Fellow
  • Kim Richey, Distinguished Education Fellow
  • Harry Jackson, Parent Advocate
  • Rachel Hannabass, Director of Operations
  • Mary Miller, Private School Advocacy Associate
  • Paul Runko, Digital Communications Specialist
  • Casey Ryan, Staff Writer
  • Rhyen Staley, Researcher
  • Callie Shinkle, Development Assistant

Former Staff Members

  • Asra Nomani, Vice President of Strategy and Investigations

Board of Directors

As of February 2021:[43]

  • Ian Lindquist, Treasurer
  • Edward Blum, Secretary
  • Karol Markowicz

Contact Information

Employer Identification Number (EIN): 86-1596460

Parents Defending Education
4532 Lee Hwy #119
Arlington, VA 22207 USA

Articles and Resources

IRS Tax Filings

1023 Tax-Exempt Application

Articles

References

  1. Parents Defending Education, Defending Ed Home Page, "Parents Defending Education", accessed June 18, 2022.
  2. Thomas Beaumont and Stephen Groves, Activists going after Wisconsin school boards are aided and funded by national conservative groups and GOP donors, "Milwaukee Journal Sentinel", September 3, 2021.
  3. Parents Defending Education, PDE About Page, "Parents Defending Education", accessed June 18, 2022.
  4. Alyssa Bowen, Ansev Demirhan, Julia Peck and Evan Vorpahl, Many 'Parent' Groups Opposing Masks and CRT Are Actually Driven by Dark Money, "Truthout", January 29, 2022.
  5. Parents Defending Education, PDE Expose Page, "Parents Defending Education", accessed June 18, 2022.
  6. Paso Robles Joint Unified School District, Resolution of the Paso Joint Unified School District prohibiting the teaching of Critical Race Theory, "Parents Defending Education", June 17, 2021.
  7. Nicole Neily, Biden Admin Pushes Critical Race Theory in Public Schools, "Parents Defending Education", May 19, 2021.
  8. Nicole Neily, Nation's Largest Teachers Union Chooses Indoctrination Over Education, "Parents Defending Education", June 11, 2021.
  9. Asra Nomani, The War on Merit, "RealClearEducation", March 24, 2021.
  10. Erika Sanzi, Parents are sounding the alarm on woke education for good reason, "Restoring America", April 25, 2022.
  11. Parents Defending Education", Letter to the Office for Civil Rights, "Parents Defending Education", May 10, 2021.
  12. Parents Defending Education, Hudson School District, "PDE", May 16, 2022.
  13. Parents Defending Education, Jackson Public School District, "PDE", May 16, 2022.
  14. Parents Defending Education, Avonworth School District, "PDE", May 16, 2022.
  15. Parents Defending Education, Manhattan Beach Unified School District, "PDE", May 16, 2022.
  16. Parents Defending Education, Pickens Middle School, "PDE", April 21, 2022.
  17. Parents Defending Education, Centennial Elementary School, "PDE", December 17, 2021.
  18. Parents Defending Education, Downers Grove South High School, "PDE", December 17, 2021.
  19. Parents Defending Education, New York City Public Schools, "PDE", December 2, 2021.
  20. Parents Defending Education, Wellesley Public Schools, "PDE", May 12, 2021.
  21. Parents Defending Education, Columbus City Schools, "PDE", May 10, 2021.
  22. Parents Defending Education, Webster Groves School District, "PDE", March 30, 2021.
  23. Parents Defending Education, Orange County Schools, "PDE", March 30, 2021.
  24. Parents Defending Education, Hopkins Public Schools, "PDE", March 30, 2021.
  25. Erika Sanzi, A different book battle, "Restoring America", May 17, 2022.
  26. Parents Defending Education, Whistleblowers claim FBI mobilized counterterrorism resources against parents, contradicting AG Garland's sworn testimony in October, "Parents Defending Education", May 12, 2022.
  27. Sudiksha Kochi, Fact check: FBI is not using threat tags on parents who protest at school board meetings, "USA Today", November 29, 2021.
  28. Christopher E. Mills, Brief for Parents Defending Education as Amicus Curiae in Support of Petitioner, "PDE", May 9, 2022.
  29. Erika Sanzi, Erika Sanzi Tweet, "Twitter", February 27, 2022.
  30. Media Matters for America, Tiffany Justice, "Media Matters for America", accessed June 20, 2022.
  31. Zach Weissmueller, Should kids have to wear masks at school? And, if so, for how long?, "Moms for Liberty", December 28, 2021.
  32. Parents Defending Education et al, Letter to Secretary Miguel Cardona, "PDE", April 26, 2022.
  33. Asra Nomani, Why anti-racism should be resisted, "UnHerd", February 12, 2022.
  34. Alison Kuznitz, Wellesley Public Schools sued over racial affinity groups, biased speech policy, "Masslive", October 21, 2021.
  35. Julie Parsons and Kimberly Ridley, Identity, Affinity, Reality: Making the Case for Affinity Groups in Elementary Schools, "ERIC", 2012.
  36. Parents Defending Education, PDE Settles Lawsuit Against Wellesley Public Schools, "PDE", February 7, 2022.
  37. Nicole Neily, Reading, Writing, Ratting Each Other Out, "RealClearEducation", June 14, 2021.
  38. Center for Media and Democracy, Speech First, "Sourcewatch", accessed June 20, 2022.
  39. Peter Greene, Parents Defending Education: Astroturf Goes Hard Right, "Curmudgucatio", April 3, 2021.
  40. Maurice Cunningham, Koch Connections and Sham Grassroots of Parents Defending Education, "MassPoliticsProfs", April 12, 2021.
  41. ALEC, ALEC Task Force On Education and Workforce Development Meeting Agenda, ALEC, December 3, 2021.
  42. Parents Defending Education, PDE About Page, "Parents Defending Education", accessed June 18, 2022.
  43. Parents Defending Education, PDE 503(c)(3) application, "PDE 503(c)(3) Application", February 16, 2021.