Advocacy update January 24, 2023

Advocacy update January 24, 2023 150 150 Episcopalians in Connection

This week, read breaking news on ideological harassment of school leaders in four districts in our diocese, a judge’s refusal to let the state Attorney General stop Columbus’ new gun safety ordinance, plus  Zoom training this Thursday by Hunger Network in Ohio on the state’s biennial budget process, which is hugely important for education, housing, food security, health, and environmental protection.  Next week I’ll report on the epic corruption trial of former House Speaker Larry Householder, which began yesterday in Cincinnati, and new Ohio and Congressional bills.

Ideological intimidation makes headlines in four school districts

The Cincinnati Enquirer and Columbus Dispatch have reported on smear campaigns against school officials in West Chester, Upper Arlington, Bexley, and Groveport-Madison in the past week. These attacks have led some of the districts to take or consider legal action against the attackers, and are generating chaos, including physical danger to at least one official.

Lakota Schools Superintendent Matt Miller announced his resignation last week, citing multiple death threats against him due to a campaign of unsubstantiated charges by school board member Darbi Boddy. Lakota schools serves West Chester, home of Episcopal parish St. Anne’s. Boddy has accused Miller of promoting critical race theory and of inappropriate sexual conduct, continuing to publicize her accusations even after investigations by the Butler County Sheriff’s office and a private investigator found no evidence of sexual misconduct. Boddy wrote that “our schools and our children have been under assault from the radical political left.”  Her “crusade to force me to resign is direct retaliation for my efforts to protect Lakota students of all genders and races from her destructive efforts,” Miller wrote the Board in his resignation letter, which was published by the Cincinnati Enquirer. Boddy made unannounced visits to district schools in May, taking pictures of history projects about the Civil Rights Movement and stickers in support of LGBTQ students.  The district issued her a notice of trespassing but the School Board accepted Miller’s resignation last week.

Officials of three Central Ohio school districts appeared in a sting operation video by Accuracy in Media answering questions on education on race, socio-emotional learning and programs to promote diversity, education and inclusion from people portraying themselves as parents who were considering enrolling their children.  The video, shot without informing or asking consent, portrays the school staff as “determined to advance the principles of critical race theory even if it becomes illegal… These radicals are being paid by your tax dollars to deceive you,” according quotes from the video in a Jan. 23 Columbus Dispatch article. The three districts and the parishes they include are Upper Arlington (St. Mark’s), Bexley (St. Alban’s), and Groveport-Madison (Trinity, London). The districts are considering legal action against Accuracy in Media, which is led by Adam Guillette, former vice president of Project Veritas, which has been ordered to pay damages to Stanford University and has been found guilty by a federal jury for violating wiretapping laws and fraudulently misrepresenting itself to Democratic consultants.

The Columbus Dispatch reports that “most of the 20 people who showed up to Upper Arlington’s school board meeting on Thursday evening [Jan. 19] defended Boaz [the district staffer in the video] while simultaneously expressing disgust with Accuracy in Media.” One parent, a retired teacher for the district, told the board that an overwhelming number of Upper Arlington residents support diversity and inclusion efforts. Members of St. Anne have written to the state legislature opposing Ohio’s version of Florida’s “don’t say gay” bill.

Nevertheless, the need for more upstanders is urgent.  Lakota Superintendent Miller gave chilling details in his letter of resignation: “While the rest of the Board does not share Ms. Boddy’s views, the fact remains that she has succeeded in her efforts and destroyed my career in the bargain. I remain frustrated that the Board as a whole did not protect me and my family from Ms. Boddy and her harassment, which has continued to this day. She has outright lied about me in public meetings, executive sessions, and in official interactions with citizens. The efforts to which she and others went to achieve my resignation have terrified me and my family. Multiple death threats were made against me as a result of her campaign, and I have good reason to believe that Ms. Boddy was behind an attempt by one of her cohorts to gain access inside my home. The Board was made aware of all of this. Yet despite some members’ private and public expressions of support, no action was ultimately taken to protect me or my family. Perhaps the most unfortunate part is tha because Ms. Boddy has been permitted to succeed, the students, parents and staff of Lakota are likely to be impacted by her and her supporters’ troubling agenda for months and years to come. “

Fairfield judge refuses state’s request to block Columbus gun safety ordinance

Ohio has had at least 135 gun violence incidents since Jan. 1, all documented on the nonprofit Gun Violence Archive website. At least 52 people have died and 112 have been injured in Ohio by gun violence in only three and a half weeks. Forty of these shootings took place in Columbus, including six in the last three days. Other cities across our diocese with documented gun violence in 2023 include Cincinnati, Dayton, Springfield, Amelia, London, Dublin, Westerville, Xenia, and Mt Sterling. On Saturday, Jan. 21, a new gun safety ordinance took effect in Columbus requiring safe gun storage around children, criminalizing giving or selling firearms to anyone prohibited from owning them, despite the Ohio Attorney General’s attempt to block it.

The ordinance will “essentially ban magazines of 30 rounds or more,” reported the Columbus Dispatch on Jan. 20, in its article reporting that Fairfield County Judge Richard Berens denied Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost’s request for a 14 day injunction. “Berens wrote that the state wouldn’t suffer irreparable injury if he didn’t grant the injunction,” wrote Dispatch reporter Mark Ferenchik. “He wrote that the state hadn’t shown that it would be likely to show that it would be able to establish a violation of constitutional rights under the Ohio Supreme Court’s current framework.”  Attorney General Yost’s spokeswoman said he plans to appeal the decision.

I’ll be tracking this case as a crucial one in the ongoing struggle on whether local Ohio communities can implement stronger measures than the state to protect public health and safety.  The Gun Violence Archive links to data sources for each shooting. By using the search tool on the top right of the website, you can filter by location and read the reports on each, a powerful resource in organizing your city to advocate for solutions.

Two Hunger Net trainings on Ohio’s upcoming budget

On Jan. 31 Governor DeWine will give his State of the State address and release his draft budget for the next biennium, launching an intense five-month legislative process. The faith-based statewide advocacy nonprofit Hunger Network in Ohio will provide two online briefings on Ohio’s budget process this Thursday, Jan. 26, at noon and 7 p.m.  “Budget policy can change lives and strengthen Ohio,” explains the Rev. Nick Bates, Hunger Net’s Executive Director, a lawyer and Lutheran deacon with years of experience advocating on Ohio’s budget. “Through our budget policies we can help folks find economic stability, improve our schools, clean up our parks and rivers, and much more.”

The Zoom sessions will share budget priorities for a broad faith coalition including the Ohio Council of Churches, historical context, and why your voice is needed.  Sign up here.

Advocacy briefings are compiled by Ariel Miller, a longtime community advocate and member of Ascension & Holy Trinity, Wyoming. Connect with her at arielmillerwriter@gmail.com