Caryn Sullivan: Parents seek to reclaim education one school board seat at a time

Come November, will Minnesota have its Virginia moment? Many parents hope so. 

The Minnesota Parents Alliance holds its kick-off rally at the Minnesota Capitol last week. (Minnesota Parents Alliance/Facebook)

Virginia shocked the nation last year when Glenn Youngkin rode a wave of parental concerns about education straight to the governor’s office, becoming Virginia’s first Republican governor since 2009.

Come November, will Minnesota have its Virginia moment? Many parents hope so.

When Gov. Tim Walz ordered a COVID lockdown and kids began learning from home, parents got an unprecedented look at what they were — and were not — being taught.

It was eye-opening and alarming for many.

As we begin the third school year since COVID, parents have been schooled. Their kids aren’t just learning the three Rs. They’re also getting a steady diet of divisive content some embrace, and others reject.

It’s one reason we’re witnessing a power struggle between educators and parents who believe the professionals are usurping their role. In the past couple of years, we’ve seen how the teachers union and school boards wield enormous power. Many wonder whose interests they’re serving.

As they’ve learned more about what kids are being asked to do, what they’re being taught, and how some educators view their role, moms and dads have become alarmed and engaged.

Parents who previously had neither the time nor the inclination to attend school board meetings are making time now. They’re asking questions and raising concerns.

Dissatisfied with the results, many are stepping up, whether by questioning books in school libraries or running for school board.

Cristine Trooien is one of those parents.

Trooien never planned to launch an advocacy organization. But the more she learned about the Westonka district where her children attended elementary school, the more she wondered: If things were amiss in a coveted school district, what might be happening elsewhere?

Trooien learned Minnesota parents from Hibbing to Zumbrota were asking the same questions and becoming increasingly concerned about the answers. Some were forming groups to develop action plans.

Rather than duplicate efforts or reinvent the wheel, Trooien formed Minnesota Parents Alliance, a nonprofit with the motto “Parents aren’t the problem — parents are the solution.”

She’s connecting groups and providing resources and training for like-minded parents to run successful school board campaigns.

It’s an uphill battle, as the well-funded teachers union and school board association put forward candidates who reflect their policies, Trooien says. But a parent who’s fighting for his or her child makes a formidable adversary.

In an era where everything is labeled and categorized, Trooien describes the alliance as a nonpartisan organization united by concerns over deteriorating academic standards and a troubling focus on divisive issues, such as race and gender.

It’s not left versus right, but right versus wrong, education versus indoctrination, she says.

That schools are focused on achieving equity through education is undeniable. Last year, Education Minnesota tweeted a call to action:

“Join our work to interrupt systemic racism in our learning communities. Applications to become a Racial Equity Advocate as part of our MEA FIRE program are now open.”

It’s activism by professionals who control students for a third of each day that prompts Trooien to make statements such as the following at the alliance’s kick-off rally last Thursday.

“After denying students in-person learning on and off for over two years, school and state leadership continues to be obsessively focused on implementing failing trends in education such as equity initiatives and ethnic studies, when we all know that our schools should be prioritizing every penny in our budgets and every minute of teaching time toward getting our children back on track academically.”

The social emotional learning and equity initiatives are certainly concerning. But Trooien rightly notes that academic performance is far below par. Many Minnesota students cannot read at grade level. Students are graduating high school and entering college without study skills or academic fundamentals. They’re undisciplined and unaccustomed to being held accountable after experiencing the relative freedom of remote learning.

The message must have resonated with voters on Tuesday. Trooien reports that all of the candidates who aligned with Minnesota Parents Alliance advanced from the primary to November’s general election.

Education is one of the most vital topics of the day. So, in the coming weeks we’ll continue to explore it so voters can make informed choices in November. Our children’s future depends on it.


Caryn Sullivan

A retired attorney and author of the award-winning memoir, "Bitter or Better: Grappling With Life on the Op-Ed Page," Caryn Sullivan has inspired readers with her thoughtful commentary for the past two decades. To learn more about Caryn’s work or to connect, visit