When it comes to children’s education, parents know best, Laura Zorc says.
As the mother of four kids herself, Zorc has been fighting for education reform since 2013, when her home state of Florida began adopting Common Core education goals. She successfully rallied a group of parents to stand against the federally funded learning standards. Now, she is training parents across the nation to be advocates for their own children in the classroom.
“Just because we send our kids to these government public schools, that does not mean the moment they walk through those front doors that we hand over our rights as parents,” Zorc says.
Zorc is the founder of Building Education for Students Together (BEST), an organization that equips parents to run for school board and stand against the far-left policies infiltrating classrooms across America.
She joins “The Daily Signal Podcast” to discuss the importance of parental involvement in the field of education and how parents can begin utilizing the resources offered by BEST, a project of FreedomWorks.
We also cover these stories:
- Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., announces he plans on forcing a vote to change rules regarding the filibuster.
- Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican, calls on the Biden administration to distribute monoclonal antibodies for the treatment of COVID-19.
- Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., announces he will no longer be posting videos to YouTube, accusing the platform of repeatedly censoring his content.
Listen to the podcast below or read the lightly edited transcript:
Virginia Allen: I am so pleased to welcome to the show Laura Zorc. She is the executive director of a parent grassroots organization called Building Education for Students Together, also known as BEST. Laura, thank you so much for being here.
Laura Zorc: Thank you, Virginia.
Allen: Now, your organization is so unique. It's meeting such a critical need at this moment in history. Explain what it is that Building Education for Students Together, BEST, does.
Zorc: Our mission is to educate, mobilize, and activate our parents to be the voice for their children. Also, in doing that, we want to inspire our parents to run for school board and then, we want to take their energy and we want to change legislation because we feel that every parent knows their child best, no pun intended there, but they do. Parents know their children best, and we feel that we want to see policy that mirrors that.
Allen: I think right now, we're at this moment in time in America where all of a sudden parents have become aware of what is happening in their children's schools. They're aware of what they're learning. They're aware of a lot of this very, very far left-leaning ideology, like critical race theory and gender identity, that [has] really infiltrated the school system.
We just released a documentary at The Daily Signal talking about what happened in Loudoun County, Virginia, as we saw parents just become more and more outraged by what they found out that their kids were learning.
As you-all talk with parents, as you're interacting, what are the tools that you're giving parents to say, “Hey, you have a voice. As a parent, you can actually stand up and you can push back on some of the things that maybe you're not liking that you're seeing in your child's classroom”?
Zorc: Well, definitely COVID has been the great awakening for parents because they were able to see what their children are being taught in the Zoom conversations and online. But parents had also realized they don't have a say, really, of when their kids go to school. Are they going to go to school with the mandates of the masks and vaccinations?
So what we try to do is we just try to meet each family in the communities. Every community's different. Some have mandates, some don't, but we try to empower them to get to these school board meetings and speak and use their voice, utilize the three minutes that they're given and express their self.
What I try to tell parents is, “Even if you are the only parent at the time that's going to those school board meetings and speaking out, more than likely, there's other parents that feel the same way and they might think that they are the only ones feeling or thinking this way.”
It's really empowering for parents to get to these school board meetings and speak out and express their self, because we know these school board members are not listening, they're not responding to emails.
So we've really notched it up, and we've designed a toolkit called Parent Empowerment Toolkit, and that's on our website. It really walks parents through steps to take to empower them, to take back their local school boards, because all these radical decisions that are being made, we can blame our governors, we can blame our legislators, but as a former school board member in Florida, I know, personally, that the decisions that are being and made are more than likely being made by these school board members.
So we encourage our parents to also run for school board. If I can do it, I know these other parents can do it. So we just have to get outside that comfort zone that we're in and we just have to dive in and do it, because these are our kids.
I tell parents this, “Just because we send our kids to these government public schools, that does not mean the moment they walk through those front doors that we hand over our rights as parents. We should still be the final decision-maker in our kids' education.”
Allen: Why is this issue so important to you? You mentioned that you ran for school board. That's a hefty undertaking. I know that you've been working on the education issue for so long. What was your driving force to say, “You know what, I really need to be involved here”?
Zorc: Well, it was back in 2013, I was a mom busy raising my four kids and Common Core came out and I did not like what I was seeing. So I went to my legislators, I went to anyone that would hear me, and the response I would get back is, “It's too late. We've already accepted the grant.”
As a parent with four kids, that answer was not good enough. It wasn't voted on. It just came in. Parents really didn't know what it was.
So myself and three other moms, we decided to take on the challenge and we did, and we were very successful in Florida. It's because we were able to be empowered by each other. So us four moms, we grew that group from four to over 22,000.
I know we always talk about education reform. We want education reform and, really, as a parent and someone that has been a parent representative, I feel like I'm a parent mentor, what's lacking and had been lacking in education reform has been the voice and the involvement of parents.
So it's really important to me to be able to change the education system that we're not happy with, it has to be parents who change that.
We can have the best policy experts, the best intentions from all these groups, but until the parents get involved, nothing was going to change. And look what has happened this year. It's so inspiring, and I'm so thrilled to see all these parents just coming out and taking ownership. These are our kids, and we're going to make a change, and I'm so proud of them.
Allen: It has been incredible to see that, to see parents standing up, speaking out, and really using their voice to say, “Wait a second, I want to have a say in my child's education.”
But I know that there are people listening who are thinking, “Well, yes, I know this is so important, but I have a full-time job and there's soccer practice, we have our church groups.” There's so many different things in our lives and it can feel really, really overwhelming to think of adding something else like being involved in your school board. Gosh, running for school board, that's so much to bite off.
So what is really your encouragement, both for parents who say, “OK, well, maybe I could pull it off to try and run for school board,” and to parents who say, “No, I definitely couldn't do that, but OK, maybe I can give an hour a week toward this”?
Laura Zorc: Well, I think we all know what our capabilities are and capacity level, but like I said, I'm a mom of four. So when you talk about busy, everybody has their own schedule, but it really boils down to this, Virginia, these are our kids, and if we don't make the time, we're going to get what we get, and that's where we are right now.
I know we're busy. I know that our kids are involved in all these activities, but what's more important than protecting their minds, in preserving this nation that we were given? It's up to us parents to make sure that we hand over all these freedoms that we have that we see being stripped away. It's our job as parents to stand up for that.
I know we're busy, but we can't use that as our excuse anymore, we just have to make it happen, and parents can do that. We're good at juggling things, it's just a matter of getting it in your schedule, but we do.
We need more parents sitting on these school boards because we see a lot of retired educators, administrators, people that don't always have the best interests of our kids that might have more of an interest of protecting the institution or a system versus really trying to protect parental rights and education.
So we definitely need to see more parents run for school board, because we need more voices of parents sitting on these school boards.
Allen: Yeah. So what are the practical steps for the moms or dads listening who think, “OK, I would like to try this, but where on earth do you start to run for school board? Are there forms to fill out? Do you have to get a certain number of signatures to get on a ballot?” How do you even start that process?
Zorc: Well, that is a good question. If you are considering and you feel inspired to run for school board, the first thing that you need to do is you need to reach out to your supervisor of elections, board of elections—every state is different in what they call these individuals—and really find out when is your election? What district do you live in? They are the experts at helping you file.
So the paperwork is once you make the decision to file, that's the easy part, but we are offering a training, it's free to parents. I encourage every parent that is considering thinking about it, and might want to help someone else run, jump on our trainings. It's every Tuesday night at 7 p.m. and it's on Zoom.
If they sign up for these trainings, then they can also, if they're not available at that 7 p.m. time, we record them and they can go into the library and they can watch these trainings at their leisure.
I'm really excited about our school board trainings. We started them back in March. We weren't really for sure, how is this going to go? But we've had nearly 900 individuals that signed up to take these trainings, and we've had about 300 that have identified to either run or have already filed.
So we know it's making a difference and we need all organizations working on this training because I believe there's 90,000 school board members across the nation and 14,000 school boards. So there's a lot of work to be done in trying to turn these school boards over and it's going to take all of us working together.
We have a great partnership with the Leadership Institute, and I'm excited about our training coming up in January because we have revamped it. We're taking the best that we've learned through up to now, we've had six six-week trainings. It's really been successful and 2022, parents aren't going away. We are just getting started and we have been empowering each other, and this is one way that we can empower each other and support someone that is running for school board.
Allen: Yeah, I think that's so important, to be building one another up and saying, “OK, this mom has the time, so we're going to back her as the other moms in our community.” That's so, so critical. So if folks want to sign up for the trainings, if they want to be pulling on the resources you-all offer, what are the practicals of that? How do they do that?
Zorc: Well, they can go to parentsknowbest.com. On the homepage, there's a button on the top right corner that they can click on to join our candidate trainings, but also the resource links they can go into there. We have some great resources in there on critical race theory, and we have other resources.
But these parent empowerment toolkits, they have been so useful and helpful, even to these little small groups. So parents that are trying to do more, it's really been able to take their initial group and take it to the next level, because not only are we trying to motivate them to get to school board meetings, but what happens when they do get to these school board meetings?
These school board members are still making these poor decisions, let's say with critical race theory or trying to say they're not teaching critical race theory, but as parents, we know they're teaching ideologies.
So we're teaching them how to write press releases, hold press conferences, write state ethics complaints against individuals that insist on teaching critical race theory when they're in a state like Florida, Texas that has banned it. So there are a lot of resources on our website.
Allen: That's so excellent.
Zorc: That's a long answer, isn't it?
Allen: No, that's perfect. And you-all have trained over 4,000 people how to be these grassroots activists, how to be individuals that know, “OK, this is how we actually effectively can be pushing back.” I think that's so critical.
Zorc: Yes, and I think that number probably was from our spring tour. We had a fall tour, so the numbers have went up.
What I've really tried to do is meet all the leaders I can possibly meet on Facebook groups, these little groups here and there, and really work with these group leaders.
So when we're talking about training, I'm going to say probably 6,000, we're talking about group leaders. It's like training the trainers, so training the leaders and then they can go back and they can also share that information with parents.
We just had a fantastic fly-in here in D.C. We brought in over 92 leaders from around the country and we had a fantastic training and they were just so empowered.
I know what happened in Virginia with that race, it has even empowered them more, and we need that. We need to be coming together because it's hard work, it's tiring work, and you're worn out and we have to stay motivated and we have to stay engaged with each other because they're going to wear us out if we don't. We've got to stay fired up because these are our kids.
Allen: You mentioned that we're seeing, as some parents say, “I'm not comfortable with the teaching of critical race theory in school,” sometimes what we're hearing back is this rhetoric of, “That's not what we're teaching,” and it'll be under some other name or terminology.
What are some of those hot-button words or phrases—it's always changing—that parents need to be aware of right now as they attend school board meetings, as they're maybe looking over announcements that their school would be sending out about, “We're introducing this concept”? What is some of that language we all need to have our eyes out for?
Zorc: Well, that is a really good question. What we have found, just like with Common Core, as soon as we came out against Common Core, they changed it to the Florida State Standards. So they renamed it, and that's what's happening right now with critical race theory.
Most of these districts, there is not a curriculum that says “critical race theory,” but what they are doing, they're teaching the fundamentals in the foundation of critical race theory, which are the ideologies.
So part of our toolkit, we have about three pages of what those words are to look out for is from equity, diversity, inclusion. Some of the programs that we've seen come through as social and emotional learning, and also, we see these districts who are hiring these chief equity officers. What these chief equity officers are doing is they're being hired to bring these ideologies into our districts through teacher training and developing and embedding these concepts into every subject.
So like you said, they are constantly changing the name, but there are so many words and I would really encourage individuals to go to our website just to see the list. It's really overwhelming.
But when I tell parents, “The first thing you want to look at, if you want to know, is it being taught in your school district?” You want to start FOIA [Freedom of Information Act] requesting the most recent teacher trainings. You want to look at teacher trainings, because your district might not be there yet, but they're in the process of training our teachers to bring it into the classroom.
So if you don't think it's there, I always recommend start looking at what are your teachers being trained on? But you just really have to be careful because white privilege, white benefit, those are some of the trigger words that you'll start hearing.
Allen: Do you all train parents how to file FOIAs?
Zorc: We do. I'm going to tell you, that's probably one of the most powerful tools that we have right now.
Zorc: I know parents across the country that how they're identifying what's being taught within the classroom is through these FOIA requests. We saw in Loudoun County, Virginia, those parents, they had FIOA to look up information because these school board members, they're not going to talk about this on the dais.
What we're seeing across the nation or the National School Boards Association, they came out with these recommendations for these state associations. They have suggested to these school board members and these chair and the president, if an item is not on your agenda, then you need to not allow them to speak on that item. It has to be germane to what the business meeting is.
So we know they're not going to be talking about critical race theory. They're not going to be talking about the mandates or anything like that. The only way we can uncover this stuff is through these FOIA requests.
Allen: That's powerful.
Well, I want to talk a little bit about how we've arrived at this moment. I think one pivotal moment that really pushed us parents all toward, “OK, we need to be more aware of what's happening,” it was when earlier this year, the National School Boards Association issued a letter to the Biden administration asking for assistance, essentially, investigating parents who were speaking out at school board meetings and pushing back against topics like critical race theory.
What effect do you think that letter had on parents all across the nation?
Zorc: I think the parents that were hoping that other parents would handle what's going on on the local level, I think [for] those parents that was the last straw.
I think what that letter did, I think, in parts, it helped get a governor elected in Virginia because parents are seeing that they're not being supported anywhere. So they're craving leaders that are going to support them and work with them. So I think it really has fired up the base.
I think parents, like I said, this has been long work. Our kids were out of school. They didn't know when they were going to go back to school. Then they went back to school, and we had the critical race theory.
I think parents have been battling this stuff for about a year-and-a-half now. When they saw that letter, being called a domestic terrorist because they're showing up to these meetings and speaking out, I don't think it was wise of them.
For us, what it really did, it inspired our parents to keep fighting, keep moving forward, and they're not backing down. [Attorney General] Merrick Garland can do all he wants, parents are not backing down because the battle here, it's our kids. We will do anything for our kids. So threatening to call the FBI on us is not going to make us go away.
Allen: Yeah. Ultimately, what do you think it's going to take in order to move schools, specifically public schools, back to being institutions that teach our kids how to think as opposed to what to think?
Zorc: I really think the first step that we have to get toward is making sure that we have the right school board members that are making those decisions; that is one step. But our unions control a lot of decisions that are being made in our school districts, so we have to figure out how to break monopoly that they have in this decision-making.
I have three school-aged children and they are in public school, so I'm not anti-public school, but I am [pro-]parental rights. But I really think what we also have to do is we have to keep pushing for legislation that allows the money to follow the student and not a system. We have to stop protecting a system and we need to start protecting our children and their future.
So it's a couple of things. So it's our school boards, it's making sure you have the right governor, and then, making sure that you have the school choice legislation that we need to allow parents to choose where they want to put their kids.
Allen: So, as a parent or a teacher, how can I engage with the work that you-all are doing? Can I do it from anywhere in the country? If I'm a parent in California or Ohio, or even Alaska, can I get plugged in and be a part of what BEST is doing?
Zorc: Well, we do have a lot of trainings that we post up on our website. As issues come up, we'll have 15- and 20-minute videos and talks on those specific issues. But we are around the country. We are everywhere. I think since March, I've been at about 130 different locations and we're building our team because, like I said, parents aren't going away in 2022.
So if individuals would like us to come to your community and host a training with you, and show you the tools that you have to have in order to make a difference in your community, we'd love to come out to your community and we'd love to help them.
Allen: Excellent. Laura Zorc, the executive director of Building Education for Students Together, BEST. Tell us the website one more time.
Zorc: It's parentsknowbest.com.
Allen: Parentsknowbest.com. Laura, thank you so much for your time today. We really appreciate it.
Zorc: Thank you. I enjoyed this.
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