What’s The Matter With Springboro?: Ohio City Grapples With Religious Right-Dominated School Board

What happens when the Tea Party gets control of a school board? Just ask the people in Springboro, Ohio.

There’s something rotten in the city of Springboro, Ohio. This community of about 17,000 in southwestern Ohio has suddenly become ground zero in a Religious Right-led culture war. What’s happening there should be a cautionary tale to all of us.

In the wake of elections last year, a three-member Tea Party faction now controls the school board. They’re up to no good.

In May, the board majority, all of whom ran on a fiscal conservative platform, suddenly began talking about finding a way to work creationism into the science curriculum. One of the board members, Jim Rigano, told the Dayton Daily News that he believes introducing creationism would help the district “ensure we’re not indoctrinating one point of view or another.”

The American Civil Liberties Union quickly wrote to the board to explain why that was not such a good idea. So did Americans United. The board agreed to shelve the matter for now but made it clear they still like the idea and want to return to it later.

On the heels of that controversy, the board struck again. This time, members proposed offering a special course this summer on the Constitution – well, the far right’s interpretation of the Constitution.

The plan was to offer the courses to adults in the community this summer and then consider integrating the material into the school curriculum this fall.

The classes were offered by two groups called the Institute on the Constitution and the National Center for Constitutional Studies. The names sound innocuous, but they cloak an extreme agenda.

Warren Throckmorton, a psychology professor at Grove City College in Pennsylvania, pointed out on his blog that the Institute on the Constitution was founded and is directed by Michael Peroutka, the 2004 presidential candidate for the Constitution Party. The Institute leans heavily on material produced by “Christian nation” advocates John Eidsmoe and David Barton.

Worse yet, Throckmorton noted that the Institute has ties to the League of the South, a radical outfit that seeks to preserve the “Anglo-Celtic culture” of the South. The League, which can’t seem to accept that the Civil War is over, is actually working toward secession. It has been labeled a racist hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Wrote Throckmorton, “As it stands, the Springboro School District is offering to the public a course in the Constitution developed by members of an organization who desire to promote the dominance of the Anglo-Celtic people, the secession of Southern states from the nation, and align themselves with the pro-slavery fire-eaters of the Confederate South.”

Both Eidsmoe and Peroutka spoke at League of the South conferences in 2012 and 2013. Throckmorton’s blog contains a video clip of Peroutka at the 2012 event, standing in front of a backdrop festooned with various Confederate flags.

Concerned Springboro residents are speaking out. They’ve formed a Facebook group titled Springboro United for Responsible Education. On July 2, a group of alumni sent a powerful letter to the board.

“The intention of this letter is to demonstrate that a significant portion of the alumni population does not support recent decisions by the school board,” observed the missive. “Constructive legal arguments have already been made by others and subsequently ignored. We are not making policy recommendations. We are not demanding resignations. What we demand is that the board please respect and integrate the wishes of its constituency, and act within the law. What we request is the greater inclusion of the community in school policy and curriculum through the formation of a citizen advisory committee or organization of a special board meeting in which these topics may explicitly be addressed. We aim to illustrate, above all, the dissatisfaction of many of Springboro’s graduates.”

The board has decided to put the Constitution classes on hold for now. But many Springboro residents remain on alert, wondering what will happen next.

Springboro’s public schools have been nationally recognized for excellence. Many residents are worried that the district’s reputation will suffer if the board’s antics continue.

I hope that concerned parents in the city will continue to monitor the situation. In the meantime, let Springboro’s sorrow be a lesson to the rest of us: Local elections really do matter.