Education

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  • How The Hate Group Alliance Defending Freedom Is Infiltrating Public Schools

    Blog ››› ››› RACHEL PERCELAY

    Media Matters first identified the anti-LGBTQ hate group Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) as the powerful legal group leading the national campaign against transgender student equality in November 2015. Since then, ADF has continued to email school districts, show up at school board meetings, and file lawsuits to oppose basic protections for transgender students -- and candidates who appear to be affiliated with ADF are even running in local school board races.

    In 2015, Media Matters published a piece about ADF’s campaign to influence local school district policies and pass state-level legislation that would ban transgender students from accessing bathroom and locker room facilities consistent with their gender identity. In December 2014, ADF started emailing public school districts across the country to "advise" them of its recommended "Student Physical Privacy" policy. In February 2015, ADF released a model state-level bill to prohibit all public school transgender students from using any facilities that correspond with their gender identity. Later that year, legislators in Nevada, Kentucky, Minnesota, Texas and Wisconsin all proposed versions of ADF's bill. Similarly, North Carolina’s disastrous anti-transgender House Bill 2 (HB 2), which passed in spring 2016, closely mirrors ADF’s model state-level bill regarding student bathroom access.

    In the 2017 legislative session, over 20 anti-transgender “bathroom bills” have been proposed in state legislatures across the nation. While none of these bills have passed yet, ADF continues to use its nearly $50 million annual budget and employ its mammoth network of over 3,000 allied attorneys to try to convince public school districts to adopt discriminatory, anti-transgender policies. The organization also appears to be trying to install friendly candidates on local school boards to further its causes.

    It’s impossible to know the extent of ADF’s anti-transgender activism, especially because many of its 3,000-plus “allied attorneys” never publicly identify themselves as such. Below is a nonexhaustive list of situations in which ADF representatives or affiliated individuals testified at local school events and ran in local school board races, sued school districts with transgender-inclusive policies, and sent letters to schools urging them to institute anti-transgender policies.

    ADF Representatives Testified At Local School Events

    March 20, 2017: ADF legal counsel Douglas Wardlow testified against a transgender-inclusive policy at an Anoka-Hennepin School Board meeting in Minnesota. Prior to his testimony, Wardlow sent a letter to the school board in which he cited discredited anti-LGBTQ junk science researchers Mark Regnerus and Paul McHugh to support his claim that protecting transgender students from discrimination isn’t supported by medical experts (it is). This “research” included a widely denounced report by McHugh attacking transgender people that was published in a journal -- The New Atlantis -- that is not “subject to rigorous peer review” as scientific research usually is. The New Atlantis is published by the Ethics and Public Policy Center, which is dedicated to “applying the Judeo-Christian moral tradition to critical issues of public policy.”

    September 7, 2016: ADF legal counsel Caleb Dalton testified at a public hearing in Prince William County, VA, on a proposed LGBTQ-inclusive nondiscrimination policy for the district. As reported by the Washington Blade, Dalton told the school board that the district could face legal liability if it approved the proposal.     

    May 12, 2016: Ken Fletcher, ADF’s senior director of strategic relations, testified at a Board of Education meeting in Fannin County, GA, regarding rumors that the county was going to institute a transgender-inclusive restroom policy (those rumors were false). In his testimony, Fletcher cited the anti-LGBTQ hate group the American College of Pediatricians (a deceptively named extremist group with an estimated 200 to 500 members whose name is meant to be confused with the 60,000-member American Academy of Pediatrics) to claim that schools should lead transgender girls away from being transgender and “cure” their so-called “gender confusion” so that they do not “lead a life of heartbreak.”

    May 9, 2016: ADF senior counsel Matt Sharp advised the Horry County Board of Education in South Carolina during a specially called board meeting to give the school board “legal advice” regarding Title IX. After speaking with Sharp and two other lawyers employed by the district, the board agreed not to change its existing policy of allowing transgender students to use facilities that align with their gender identity.

    ADF Sued School Districts For Implementing Transgender-Inclusive Policies

    March 2017: ADF sued the school district of Boyertown, PA, for allegedly violating the “privacy” of a cisgender boy because the school had a trans-inclusive locker room policy.

    September 2016: ADF sued the U.S. Department of Education (DOE) and the Virginia Public School District in Minnesota on behalf of a group of 10 parents calling themselves “Privacy Matters,” who said that their children’s privacy was violated by a transgender student “twerking” in the locker room.

    June 2016: ADF sued the DOE on behalf of the Highland Local School District in Ohio because it said it was set to lose federal funding if it didn’t let a transgender girl use the girl’s restroom.

    May 2016: ADF sued the DOE and the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) on behalf of a group called “North Carolinians for Privacy” in response to the DOJ’s lawsuit regarding North Carolina’s anti-LGBTQ HB 2 law.

    May 2016: ADF sued the Palatine, IL, Township High School District 211 and the DOE on behalf of an anonymous group called “Students and Parents for Privacy,” saying a transgender-inclusive policy created an "intimidating and hostile" environment for students who share the locker room with the transgender student.

    ADF Affiliates Running For School Boards

    March 2017: In Palatine, IL, an ADF-affiliated group called “D211 Parents for Privacy” is advocating for ADF’s model policy and has endorsed three candidates for the board of education in that district. It’s also targeting current school board members who voted in favor of the transgender-inclusive policy.

    September 2016: ADF-affiliated attorney Derrick Good was tapped as an “emergency replacement” for a school board in Jefferson County, MO, after a controversy arose in 2015 when a Hillsboro High School student asked to use locker rooms and bathrooms that corresponded to her gender identity. Good, who said that people make "decisions" about being transgender, helped the district install an anti-transgender policy that prohibits transgender youth from using restrooms and locker rooms that align with their gender identity.

    ADF Sent Letters To Local Schools

    January 2017: ADF sent a letter to the school district of Egg Harbor Township, NJ, saying that it was ready to “litigate if necessary” regarding a proposed transgender-inclusive policy.

    May 2016: ADF convinced Grayson County, VA, to institute its “Student Physical Privacy Policy.” The superintendent told ThinkProgress that ADF claimed that “if we adopt their policy and it is contested,” ADF would come to the school district’s defense for free. During the debate over the policy, Virginia State Sen. Bill Carrico, who reported a $5,000 gift from ADF in 2014 for a trip with his wife to a conference in Naples, FL, also assured the district that ADF would defend the policy “all the way up to the Supreme Court, if necessary.” Prior to the debate, Carrico said that he had spoken with “legal organizations about the possibility of bringing suit against the Obama administration” regarding its guidance on transgender students. 

    May 3, 2016: ADF sent a letter to the Berkeley County School Board in South Carolina arguing that a transgender-inclusive restroom policy would “endanger students’ privacy and safety, undermine parental authority, violate religious students’ free exercise rights and severely impair an environment conducive to learning.”

    May 2, 2016: ADF sent a letter to the school board in Candia, NH, urging it to adopt ADF’s model anti-transgender policy. At a school board meeting on May 5, 2016, multiple speakers urged the board to adopt ADF’s model policy. But the meeting ended with the school district instituting a transgender-inclusive policy.

    April 28, 2016: ADF sent a letter to the Durham, NC, school board of directors and superintendent saying the school district had no obligation to protect transgender students and could be held legally liable for instituting a transgender-inclusive policy. ADF later sued the district after it instituted a transgender-inclusive policy.

    March 2016: ADF sent a letter to the Westwood Regional High School District in northern New Jersey opposing its transgender-inclusive policy. The policy passed with “little opposition” from school board members or the general public.

    February 29, 2016: In an article about a proposed bathroom bill in South Dakota that was drafted using ADF’s language, The Washington Post reported that ADF had sent its model school policy to “thousands” of school districts nationwide, which it described as an effort to protect the “bodily privacy” of children.

    January 2016: ADF sent letters to “every Tennessee school district” saying that districts could be at risk of “legal liability” for instituting transgender-inclusive policies.

    ADF Otherwise Influenced Schools To Pass Its Model Policy

    December 18, 2015: Political Research Associates reported that ADF’s model policy is also being disseminated through a project of the anti-LGBTQ group Focus on the Family (FOTF). The project website provides a “Tell a School” tool that allows visitors to share ADF’s Student Physical Privacy Policy with their local school boards, allowing ADF’s model policy to be sent through FOTF’s website without the sender even reading it.

    December 2, 2015: At least seven different people who have children in Township High School District 211 in Palatine, IL, cited ADF’s privacy policy while testifying in a special school board meeting after the board instituted a transgender-inclusive policy.

    Graphic by Sarah Wasko.

  • The Conservative Dark-Money Groups Infiltrating Campus Politics

    ››› ››› PAM VOGEL

    College campuses have long served as unique places for the free exchange of ideas -- but increasingly they’ve also become playgrounds for ideologically driven, right-wing billionaires and the dark-money groups they fund. Media Matters has mapped out some of the biggest actors behind astroturf conservative campus activism, creating an echo chamber of seemingly grass-roots right-wing student media and campus groups that are actually propped up by a handful of the same conservative funders and, sometimes, even prominent hate groups.

  • Daily Caller Mocks Anti-Semitic Graffiti: "FINALLY! The First Poop Swastika Of 2017"

    Blog ››› ››› RACHEL PERCELAY

    Pro-Trump right-wing web outlet The Daily Caller mocked an incident in which a swastika drawn with human feces was found in a gender-neutral bathroom at the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), posting a piece with the headline “FINALLY! The First Poop Swastika Of 2017 Appears On An American College Campus.”

    The vandalism was found in a gender-neutral dorm bathroom over the weekend of February 18. The school’s public safety officials said that they are investigating the incident as “both an act of vandalism and potentially a crime of hate.” The anti-Semitic and possibly anti-LGBTQ incident came during a continuing national surge in anti-Semitic threats and hate crimes. Some RISD students also told local outlet NBC 10 that this is the latest in “a string of incidents with feces.”

    Notoriously anti-LGBTQ and misogynist Daily Caller reporter Eric Owens mocked the anti-Semitic vandalism in a February 27 article headlined “FINALLY! The First Poop Swastika Of 2017 Appears On An American College Campus.” Owens repeatedly referred to the feces as “poop,” writing that RISD students were “unsure about the meaning of the poop swastika.” Owens connected RISD’s anti-Semitic crime with a similar incident in October 2015, when a swastika drawn in feces was found in a dorm bathroom at the University of Missouri during a period of racial tension and protest on campus. The Daily Caller had repeatedly mocked the University of Missouri vandalism, using the tag “poop swastika” and running articles like “Who Is The Poop Nazi?” accompanied by an image of the infamous “Soup Nazi” from NBC’s Seinfeld.

    From the February 27 Daily Caller article: 

    A swastika created out of human feces appeared in a gender-neutral bathroom at a residence hall at Rhode Island School of Design last week.

    Officials at the highly selective art school just down the street from Brown University notified students that the swastika was, in fact, composed of human waste, according to local NBC affiliate WJAR.

    “It’s pretty shocking because I think everybody is wondering, you know, who it is,” Rhode Island School of Design student Cooper Thompson told WJAR.

    Students on the RISD campus were unsure about the meaning of the poop swastika.

    “You don’t know if it’s somebody who actually has a mental illness or you don’t know if it’s somebody who’s just trying to play a prank or they actually are anti-Semitic,” one student, Afi Goncalves, told the station.

    A third student, Rory Hernandez, noted that unauthorized poop art has become a trend at RISD lately.

    [...]

    America’s last campus poop swastika kerfuffle occurred in October 2015 on the campus of the University of Missouri.

    [...]

    Partly in response to the Gateway Hall poop swastika, a days-long protest ensued on Mizzou’s Columbia, Mo. campus.

    The protests centered on a group called Concerned Students 1950 and Jonathan Butler, a twentysomething graduate student and the son of a millionaire railroad executive, who went on a six-day hunger strike in November 2015.

    Previously: 

    Why Did The New York Times Call The Daily Caller “Moderate”?

    Campbell Brown's "Non-Partisan" News Site Hires Contributor With Long Anti-LGBT History

    Daily Caller Mocks Transgender Students "Running For Homecoming King, Queen, Whatever"

  • Major Publications Fail To Identify Anti-LGBTQ Hate Groups In Transgender Policy Coverage

    ››› ››› TYLER CHERRY

    Major news outlets have failed to label the Alliance Defending Freedom and the Family Research Council -- groups praising President Donald Trump’s repeal of nondiscrimination protections for transgender students -- as anti-LGBTQ hate groups. This failure is part of a larger trend of major news outlets failing to properly identify anti-LGBTQ hate groups or acknowledge their extremism.

  • On CNN, Hate Group Leader Praises Efforts To “Reclaim Our Schools” With Mass Deportations

    FAIR President: “If You Enforce These Laws, We Can Reclaim Our Schools, Our Hospitals, And Our Communities”

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    CNN’s New Day hosted Dan Stein, president of the anti-immigrant hate group the Federation for Immigration Reform (FAIR), to discuss President Donald Trump’s planned mass deportations, which he characterized as a move to “reclaim our schools, our hospitals, and our communities once again for the American people.” Co-host Alisyn Camerota introduced Stein simply as “the president of the Federation for Immigration Reform” and as someone who supports Mr. Trump’s moves on immigration,” without mentioning FAIR’s track record of nativist bigotry. 

    FAIR, which helped influence Trump’s approach to immigration, including his planned mass deportations and Muslim registry, has ties to white supremacy through its founder, who also founded the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS). FAIR has been described as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) for its “ties to white supremacist groups and eugenicists.” FAIR uses a veneer of impartiality to inject absurd myths into the immigration debate, assisted in large part by the media outlets that regularly cite them without mentioning their extremism. In the Trump era, it is more important than ever for media to properly label these hate groups and not afford them presumed respectability. From the February 22 edition of CNN’s New Day, which also featured Andre Segura of the American Civil Liberties Union:

    ALISYN CAMEROTA (CO-HOST): What is your biggest concern about the new guidelines as Mr. Trump has laid them out?

    ANDRE SEGURA: Where do we start? This is bringing to life President Trump's worst and most divisive campaign rhetoric. Like I’ve said before on this program, we have to take the president at his word, and he's going to bring these things to life. 10,000 new ICE agents throughout the interior. I think people have a misconception that this is not going to affect them in their daily lives. But when you have more ICE agents throughout the country, when you have more state and local officers doing immigration enforcement, you're going to see an uptick in racial profiling. Communities are going to become less safe. 

    CAMEROTA: Dan, what do you like about it? 

    DAN STEIN: Look, people come here illegally, that doesn't mean they just have the right to stay. You take a look at all of these orders, if you're here illegally, you need to be thinking about going out and buying some luggage. Because as Spicer made it clear, Trump administration says if you're here illegally you remain deportable with the exception of the so-called DACA group, and that's a dramatic change. Look, nobody ever decided in this country that immigration was unlimited, that you can break the immigration law and then demand to stay. That you could jump in front of the line, in front of millions of people who respect our laws all over the world and just come in and say, “OK, I'm here, I don't have to go.” If we -- if you enforce these laws, we can reclaim our schools, our hospitals, and our communities once again for the American people. 

  • When Journalists Investigated Trump's Nominee For Education Secretary, They Found Scores Of Unanswered Questions

    ››› ››› JULIE ALDERMAN & PAM VOGEL

    Journalists have spent months investigating the complicated connections of education secretary nominee Betsy DeVos, attempting to untangle her financial dealings and ideological stances on public education. In light of DeVos’ January 17 Senate committee confirmation hearing, Media Matters highlights some of the findings from quality investigative reporting on the billionaire Republican mega-donor. 

  • Right-Wing Media Slam Student Loan Assistance, Calling It A “Con” And A “Bailout”

    Blog ››› ››› ALEX MORASH

    The Wall Street Journal’s editorial board joined a chorus of right-wing outlets in blasting the federal government’s income-based student loan repayment program, calling it a costly “con” meant to “buy millennial votes.” Yet right-wing media are ignoring the benefits of a program that could relieve millions of student borrowers of a portion of their remaining debt and that is still generating a profit.

    Right-wing media lambasted the Department of Education and student borrowers after the Journal reported on November 30 the latest findings from the Government Accountability Office (GAO), which found that the government is on track to forgive $108 billion of $352 billion in student loans as part of federal income-driven repayment plans. The Journal’s editorial board blasted the government on December 1, calling the latest findings proof that the Department of Education’s loan program is a “con” designed to “buy millennial votes.” (The editorial column was the Journal’s second since November 1 lamenting the federal program, which has led to millions of students earning student loan forgiveness.) Earlier that day, Fox News host Jon Scott questioned if the program was a “bailout” for student borrowers. Fox Business host Stuart Varney also called the program “a bailout” on the November 30 edition of Varney & Co., while his guest Steve Costes added that the program is “a shame.”

    Federal student loan borrowers have multiple repayment plan options, including income-based plans that require borrowers to pay back loans based on a percentage of their income for a certain number of years, after which the remainder is eligible to be forgiven. The GAO’s findings were for the hypothetical cost in loan principal forgiveness for the 5.3 million borrowers who signed up for income-based repayment plans for loans issued over a 22-year period, between 1995 to 2017. These borrowers will likely see an average of $21 forgiven for every $100 in loans received. Despite right-wing media complaining about the cost of borrower relief for those on income-based payment plans, the GAO found that the Department of Education still nets a profit on student loans.

    The reason the government still makes a profit even after loan forgiveness is because many federal student loans have an interest rate at 6.8 percent -- a figure that is much higher than inflation or the 1 percent interest rate banks receive from the Federal Reserve. The 6.8 percent interest rate is so high that the GAO’s hypothetical borrower would pay almost double the original principal of their loan if the income-based plan had no cutoff date for forgiveness:

    Student loan debt is a leading concern among young people, with The Atlantic finding nearly 30 percent of Americans aged 18 to 29 “cited paying off student loans as their biggest financial challenge.” According to Fortune, “there is little doubt that many Millennials are struggling financially” after a survey by PwC found that 79 percent of the 42 percent of millennials that have student loans struggle to pay those loans. Evidence shows student debt can impact personal wealth, delay homeownership affect personal decisions to marry or start a family, and that it has “cripple[d] retail sales growth.” The financial stress of student loans has a “devastating toll” on borrowers’ mental health, according to Complex, which cited findings by researchers that “student loans were associated with poorer psychological functioning.”

    While right-wing media push many myths about student debt, student concerns are valid; according to a November 21 op-ed published by Investopedia, Americans with student loan debt have “a challenging road ahead of them in the present and the future” due to workers being unable to save for retirement. The op-ed, which was authored by a financial adviser, even questioned whether people with student loans "will be able to retire” at all. The increasing debt burden can even hinder career advancement as graduates can be forced to take jobs that may have no chance of wage growth or career development so they can make debt payments on time.

    Conservative media have labeled higher education as a "privilege" and suggested students ought to choose fictional cheaper colleges. Some outlets have even defended schools that take advantage of students and leave them with significant debt. But research shows college matters now more than ever, and the cost to attend is rising across the board. The student debt crisis is especially damaging for poor students and students of color, who more frequently attend cheaper open-access and community colleges and are still forced to borrow in higher numbers to pay for their education.

    Blaming students for the student loan debt crisis ignores the facts and distracts from finding real solutions to America's skyrocketing student debt burden.

  • Meet Charlie Kirk, The “Boy Wonder” Trump Ally Behind A Poorly Sourced McCarthy-Like Watchlist Of Professors

    Blog ››› ››› PAM VOGEL

    A new website called Professor Watchlist is soliciting “tips” to help publicly “expose and document” college professors who “advance leftist propaganda in the classroom.” The conservative group Turning Point USA, led by frequent Fox News guest and former Breitbart.com contributor Charlie Kirk, is behind the site.

    Professor Watchlist, which launched on November 21, encourages visitors to “submit a tip” to report professors who “discriminate against conservative students and advance leftist propaganda in the classroom.” (The website originally also solicited reports of professors who “promote anti-American values,” but that language has since been deleted.) The submission form allows visitors to identify professors by name and school, and to submit evidence of perceived bias discovered via “Article/News Report,” “1st Hand Experience,” or simply “Word of Mouth.” It also allows visitors to share optional “Video/Photo Evidence” of alleged transgressions. The site’s “About Us” page notes that it will “only publish profiles on incidents that have already been reported somewhere else,” though it does not provide further information on the quality of previous reporting required or the overall vetting process.

    As of noon on December 1, the site lists 143 professors by name, including photos of the allegedly biased educators, brief details of reported incidents that have warranted their inclusion on the site, and links to “source(s)” that reported the incidents. Of these 143 entries, right-wing student reporter website Campus Reform, operated by the conservative activist training group the Leadership Institute, served as the singular “source” for 75. The conservative student blog The College Fix sourced 10 entries, and the anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant David Horowitz Freedom Center’s website DiscoverTheNetworks, which often cites white nationalist groups, accounted for another 12. Other sources included Glenn Beck’s TheBlaze, FoxNews.com posts, and edited “undercover” videos from conservative activist James O’Keefe’s discredited group Project Veritas. (Even Bill O’Reilly expressed some concern about the legitimacy of these “third-party” reports in a recent interview with Kirk.)

    Kirk’s Professor Watchlist site mimics the M.O. of other “citizen journalist” vigilantes of the far-right, like O’Keefe’s Project Veritas, by promoting “tips” from the public with little accountability for the truth, yet potential real consequences for those caught in the crossfire.

    In fact, O’Keefe was invited to attend the final presidential debate courtesy of Kirk and Turning Point USA. Last year, O’Keefe spoke about “gorilla journalism” (sic) at a Turning Point USA event in West Palm Beach, FL, and Professor Watchlist cites his videos as the sole “source” justifying four entries so far.

    The “alt-right” white nationalist news site Breitbart.com, now predictably defending Kirk’s dangerous watchlist, has previously aligned itself with O’Keefe via exclusive releases and spirited defenses of his “journalism” tactics. Both Kirk and O’Keefe also appear to support Breitbart mouthpiece Milo Yiannopoulos, a racist and sexist media stunt artist who styles himself as a journalist.

    The 23-year-old Kirk has made guest appearances on Fox Business for several years. Kirk was previously a contributor at Breitbart, and he has written pieces for The Washington Times and FoxNews.com, among other right-wing outlets, beginning when he was in high school. On Twitter, Kirk has pushed Clinton conspiracy theories, repeatedly delighted in the failures of “the media,” and targetedleftist” professors and “likely” professors for perceived bias for years.

    In 2015, Kirk was the subject of several puff profiles labeling him a “major player in conservative politics” and a “boy wonder” set to “energize” the Republican Party. His group also hosted multiple “Big Government Sucks” rallies that year, with Sens. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Rand Paul (R-KY) making appearances. In July of this year, Kirk spoke at the Republican National Convention about Turning Point USA, describing its work to push conservative values on college campuses, which he called “the most treacherous terrain imaginable.”

    Apart from “calling back to McCarthyism and making lists of college professors who have offended their conservative sensibilities,” Kirk’s Turning Point USA is classified as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization whose stated mission is to “identify, educate, train, and organize students to promote the principles of fiscal responsibility, free markets, and limited government.” The group claims to have a “presence” on 1,000 college and high school campuses nationally. Another of its projects, Hypeline News, is a “young-adult driven social news site” that employs college-age writers and says it’s “taking back the media.”

    Kirk personally publicly supported Trump for the final months of the election season (although during the primaries he called Trump a “statist” and “demagogue” and was “cheering for a slowdown of the Trump train” in March). In 2011, however, Kirk -- then a high school student -- repeatedly tweeted at Trump, encouraging him to run for president. Last week, Kirk reportedly met with undisclosed members of the Trump transition team at Trump Tower to give “advice on young people and millennials and outreach.”