07/27/2021 02:18 p.m. EST
When Truth in Education, or TIE, was formed a few months ago by a handful of grassroots Guilford activists, it wasn’t clear what kind of influence it would wield. As of last week, though, the group and its messages appears to have taken hold in a much more significant and institutional way, as three incumbent Republican Board of Education (BOE) members were ousted in favor TIE-affiliated candidates at the Republican Town Committee (RTC) caucus on July 22, giving them the RTC endorsement for the November elections this fall.
It was a rousing victory for TIE, with all five of its candidates receiving significantly higher vote totals than the incumbents. All are political neophytes, though most claim at least some experience working in education.
The five TIE candidates are Tim Chamberlain, a parent who lists his qualifications as graduating from conservative Hillsdale College in Michigan; Danielle Scarpellino, who runs a children’s dance studio and said she spent many years working as a substitute teacher; Nick Cusano, an MBA graduate from Quinnipiac University; Bill Maisano, a former Guilford Police officer who worked in schools as a DARE officer; and Alexandra Passarelli, a certified teacher with advanced degrees in early childhood education.
The three Republican incumbents are Ted Sands, Amy Sullivan, and Joseph Golino. Sullivan notably is the current vice chair of the BOE, and both she and Sands have served two terms on the BOE, while Golino was appointed in 2020 to fill a vacancy.
There are five total BOE seats up for grabs this November. Due to minority party representation rules, at least three Republicans will end up seated after the election.
TIE members have mostly focused their objections and energy on equity and social justice initiatives that have received broad support from the current BOE, residents, and district administration, attempting to tie them to the writings of Karl Marx and Adolf Hitler. TIE members have also called the initiatives divisive and biased politically against conservatives.
Scarpellino is one of the new RTC endorsed TIE candidates. Owner of a small business and a Guilford parent, she has been the most outspoken and often the most confrontational members of TIE, engaging in both public and private arguments with current BOE members and Superintendent of Schools Dr. Paul Freeman.
Though traditionally party nominating caucuses require someone else make an endorsement speech on behalf of a candidate, TIE members successfully petitioned for a rule change, allowing Scarpellino to speak for herself.
“I believe there is a political element in our schools that should never, never have been allowed in,” Scarpellino said, in fiery remarks to about 200 people at the Community Center. “These are our children.”
“The public schools belong to the public,” she added.
The Grassroots Group
The origins of TIE go back to a broader conservative movement that was sparked by filmmaker and activist Christopher Rufo, who drew national attention almost exactly a year ago after he attributed diversity work trainings that spoke to racial divisions and experiences to a post-graduate academic framework known as Critical Race Theory.
According to the American Bar Association, Critical Race Theory is “a practice of interrogating the role of race and racism in society that emerged in the legal academy and spread to other fields of scholarship..[that] acknowledges that the legacy of slavery, segregation, and the imposition of second-class citizenship on Black Americans and other people of color continue to permeate the social fabric of this nation.”
Activists around the country eventually targeted local school boards, many successfully, upending attempts to integrate curriculum or pedagogy mostly focused on increasing the diversity and range of teaching about race. They have often tried to connect these things to Critical Race Theory, claiming without evidence that terms like “equity” and “social justice” are code for Marxist takeovers of education and are anti-White, or at least unnecessarily divisive.
TIE members have met weekly in the community center for at least the last couple months, and have seemingly followed this same blueprint targeting school board seats.
TIE’s official goals, as set out in literature distributed at last month’s rally, focus specifically on what it is calling Critical Race Theory and includes denying the existence of systemic racism and ending “indoctrination” of “Marxists, racist, anti-American ideology” in the schools.
Scarpellino has previously pointed to district materials that ask students to confront or speak about their experiences of race, along with an ongoing curriculum audit meant to add more diverse texts and perspectives in teaching materials as evidence of these things.
TIE has also decried statements made by Freeman and other schools officials concerning White privilege or speaking out on systemic racism and LGBTQ issues.
At the caucus, the divide seemed clear between the incumbent old guard, who connected Guilford’s indisputably successful school system to the reliability and collaborative nature of their work, and TIE, whose emotionally charged narrative of defending children from abuse or indoctrination obviously appealed to the assembled voters and drew the loudest applause.
Kurt Griffin, who spoke in endorsement of Chamberlain, said the current school board members “are going over the cliff like a bunch of lemmings,” citing Freeman’s use of an anti-racist book in the district and connecting it to Marxism.
Susan Weber Miller, one of TIE’s founders, spoke in endorsement of Passarelli. She claimed the kind of initiatives the district has run are not age-appropriate and “kills the innocence” of younger students.
“It will cause confusion of self, identity issues, and cause children to question how they fit into our community,” she said.
Current Board of Finance (BOF) member Jeff Beatty, who spoke on behalf of Sands, drew the clearest line between TIE and the incumbents, with the former aiming to disrupt and the latter committed to collaboration.
“Ted’s work, and the work of Amy Sullivan and Joe Golino, delivers great value for the Guilford taxpayers,” Beatty said. “We are fortunate that Ted, Amy, and Joe understand that the best way to improve our schools is to strike a balance by engaging with other constituencies rather than divisively pursuing their own agenda.”
TIE’s influence showed up in other ways, too, with Golino’s endorsement speech specifically pointing out he did not sign off on an equity statement released by the BOE earlier this year, and an unprompted statement in support of TIE in another endorsement speech.
After some more sparring and questions about the vote counting process, with the caucus eventually voting to allow each candidate a representative in the room to observe the process, final vote tallies were announced to a cheering crowd, many of whom stayed an extra hour to hear the final result.
In the end, the TIE candidates steamrolled the incumbents in vote totals, with Maisano winning 120 votes, Chamberlain receiving 118, Cusano at 119, Scarepllino at 112, and Passarelli at 116. Sands received 48 votes, while Sullivan got 47 and Golino took 71.