Conservative talking points about “parental rights” have made their way to this year’s election for the Santa Fe Public Schools Board of Education.
District 2 incumbent Sarah Boses is the only school board member facing a challenge in the Nov. 7 contest, with Patricia Vigil-Stockton, CFO of her family business, and Cerrillos saddlemaker John T. McKenna both vying for her spot. While the race is technically nonpartisan, which means there aren’t party-aligned primary contests, Vigil-Stockton has employed messaging that matches Republican-party rhetoric about the role of parents in public schools.
Alissa Barnes, executive director of ProgressNow New Mexico, tells SFR her organization has seen such rhetoric growing since 2021 in various districts across the state. Nationwide, state lawmakers have introduced nearly 400 bills aimed at empowering parents, government officials and others to challenge or monitor what schools teach about race and gender.
Barnes says that as a parent, she sees the term “parental rights” as deliberately misleading to voters.
“It’s a really smart term to get people listening,” Barnes says. “The problem is, it’s not actually about parental rights. It’s not about me having the right to know if my kid is being bullied in school; it’s not about me having the right to be engaged in their education with the teachers and administrators at the school. It is about restricting access to curriculum, to inclusivity— particularly ostracizing and alienating queer and trans kids.”
Teachers who work in the district questioned candidates’ stances on book-banning and treatment of LGBTQ subjects in the classroom—both subjects central to the “rights” agenda—at an Oct. 13 forum held by Santa Fe’s National Education Association chapter.
For example, first-grade teacher Claire Love asked candidates who is best qualified to determine what books should be in the classroom and school libraries: parents, or the American Library Association?
Vigil-Stockton, who has been officially endorsed by the Santa Fe County Republican Party and enjoys support from Sarah Jane Allen, chair of the Bernalillo County chapter of book-banning advocate group Moms for Liberty, said she favors the idea of parents deciding what books go into the schools.
“Parents are the best to know and determine what is good for their kids,” she said. “But how are parents going to know what’s being presented to their children?”
Vigil-Stockton also advocated at the forum for “parental consent forms”—a nod to the GOP’s platform on education that pushes for more ways for parents to opt their students out of curricula they don’t like. She brought up the phrase in her answer about books, but didn’t specify how such forms could apply to books on the library shelves.
McKenna, a former Catholic school teacher from Massachusetts, asked, “What kid goes into a library now? I’m seeing kids on the phone all day long.”
He said the school board should have the ability to vet books, noting, “Children belong to their parents. We have to take what they say and what they believe.”
Boses took an opposite approach.
“I do not support book bans. I don’t think censorship leads to anything good,” Boses said. “I believe the best body to guide that is the [American] Library Association. There is a process, it is well-vetted, it’s evidence-based—and I support that.”
Boses tells SFR in a later interview that while she feels the “parental rights” issues have been a distraction from what the school board actually does, she can’t ignore them.
“That isn’t to say parents shouldnt be involved, but they don’t need to be in the library, and they certainly don’t need to be making decisions for other people’s kids about what those kids can read,” Boses says.
SFPS policy dictates the schools must recognize students’ right and/or obligation to study any controversial issue which has political, economic, or social significance, and to have free access to all relevant age-appropriate information. Additionally, each school’s library catalog is publicly available on the school district’s website.
When asked about LGBTQ representation in the classroom, McKenna said he does not want to “get caught up in things that are now becoming political footballs,” and Vigil-Stockton said the issue should vary depending on age.
“At the elementary level, we should be focusing on the curriculum and what’s age-appropriate,” Vigil-Stockton said. “And I think that’s very important, to really review the content of books.”
Boses said she views LGBTQ representation as a way to increase school safety for students who may feel unsafe at home.
“If they can feel safe at school and have connections, that really changes outcomes,” Boses said.
Boses, elected to the board in 2019, also defended the district’s efforts to keep parents involved, noting policies consistent with state and federal statutes.
“I haven’t ever heard a teacher say they wished parents and the community weren’t involved in educating kids,” Boses said, adding “parental involvement should not be confused, or intentionally conflated, with parental or community control.”