How a controversy between Arizona school boards became a perfect political issue
Amanda Wray was cleaning up her Airbnb property, a mountain cabin two hours north of her home in Scottsdale, Ariz., When a friend texted her a link to a folder on someone’s Google Drive. There, among a jumble of documents, were files labeled with his name. “I have seen hundreds of files,” she told me. “Pictures of my children, pictures of my friends’ children, pictures of the house I was in. I just started to feel like someone was looking at me – irrationally. But I saw the number of hours someone had spent stalking me, and it made me physically ill. She updated her bio on Twitter to reflect her discovery: “Public school mom, doxxed, harassed and harassed by Scottsdale Unified School District School Board Chairman.”
Within a week, the Google Drive folder, now considered a “secret file”, was making international news. In 2022, Arizona will hold elections for senator and governor; on the record, would-be Republican politicians saw an opportunity for outrage. “Parents are NOT the enemy! Jim Lamon, a Republican hoping to win Democrat Mark Kelly’s Senate seat, wrote on his website. “As a father and grandfather, I am shocked to learn that this kind of harassment is happening right here in Scottsdale, Arizona! Courageous parents like Amanda Wray are the VICTIMS of this madness. Right-wing pundits took to the story: “Arizona school board president comes under fire for creating a dossier containing information on parents who oppose CRT and have woken up ideologies taught in their children’s classrooms, ”said a One America News presenter. Citing the Virginia governor’s race, in which the anti-racist efforts of a suburban school district became a statewide problem that may have turned the tide in favor of Republicans, Charlie Kirk, the founder of Turning Point USA, called the Loudoun County 2.0 debacle.
Wray, a friendly and open-faced financial advisor, moved from Texas to Scottsdale in 2015. She sent her daughters to a public school that matched her values. “They wear uniforms,” she told me. “The program is traditional. It’s very regulated and disciplined. Wray was not particularly involved in local education policy – she did not know the names of her school board members and had never attended a single meeting – until the pandemic. As the district debated masking and social distancing policies, she began attending virtual SUSD board meetings, urging a return to in-person learning.
In August 2020, Wray co-founded the Community Advocacy Network, or CAN, a private Facebook group that quickly grew to over seventeen hundred members. “They started with a program to open our schools, then moved on to a whole list of other topics,” SUSD Superintendent Scott Menzel told me: opposition to mask warrants; attempts by some parents to sniff out critical race theory in the classroom. (Menzel said CRT was never part of the SUSD curriculum.) For many days, Wray told me, there were hundreds of new comments on the Facebook group page.
In Arizona – and across the country – school boards are increasingly a place of turmoil and activism, influenced by partisan resentment of national politics. Meetings once reserved for a local audience are now live streamed and archived on YouTube; an angry rant anywhere in the country has the potential to go viral. Some parents go beyond delusions. In Vail, a suburb southeast of Tucson, a group attempted a coup within the school board. They swarmed a meeting, without a mask, until it was canceled; then they voted their own representatives, who immediately repealed the mask mandates. (The election was not valid.)
Controversies within school boards are increasingly driven by national political trends. “I started writing my book on the nationalization of politics in 2014,” Daniel Hopkins, author of “The Growing United States: How and Why Nationalized American Political BehaviorAnd a political science professor at the University of Pennsylvania told me. “Every time I got more data, it seemed like the polarization and nationalization grew more and more, in state houses and mayoral races and district attorney races. And school boards are the last arena.
In May, the SUSD board meeting was abruptly interrupted after a rowdy group, many from outside the district, refused to wear masks, in defiance of local ordinances. “It wasn’t a crowd like they said in the media,” Wray told me, who was also unmasked at the meeting. “It was a bit. . . unruly. “Board chairman Jann-Michael Greenburg wore a bulletproof vest during meetings.” I’ve seen insults between adults that are absolutely disgusting, “Menzel said.” We wouldn’t allow it. not for college students. ”
As the COVIDThe -19 vaccine became more widely available, with some hoping the pandemic – and school board wars – would subside and the fall would bring some semblance of normalcy. But conservative strategists saw an opportunity in the newly mobilized parent groups, an opportunity that could allow Republican politicians to gain traction on education, an issue that has traditionally favored Democrats. “It’s the Tea Party to the power of 10”, Steve Bannon Recount Politics, in June. “It’s not Q, these are traditional suburban moms.” Wray told me this summer that SUSD parents were invited to a meeting at the Goldwater Institute, a conservative think tank. The outcome of the Virginia governor’s race seemed to indicate that educational controversies could lead the swing states to smash the Republican.
In Scottsdale, most CAN The parents’ anger was directed against Greenburg, then president of the governing board, a lawyer in his twenties and without children. Before Greenburg was elected to the board in 2018, he had helped to oust former District Superintendent Denise Birdwell, who was indicted for eighteen counts of fraud and bribery involving construction projects. Greenburg and his father, Mark, were active in local politics. (They also run a music copyright compliance firm, Tresóna Multimedia, which is somewhat of a bogeyman in the high school choir world, due to its frequent threats of copyright infringement lawsuits. ‘author, sometimes for music that the company does not I have the rights to the ninth circuit recently scolded Tresóna for these tactics.)
Mark Greenburg had gained notoriety around Scottsdale for his abrasive tactics. When a website mocking former SUSD board chair Barbara Perleberg popped up in 2018, Perleberg for follow-up to find out who was behind it: Mark Greenburg, as it turned out. After City Councilor Guy Phillips shouted, ” I can not breathe ! I can not breathe ! During an anti-mask rally weeks after George Floyd’s murder, Mark Greenburg made memes of Phillips standing next to burning crosses, swastikas and Ku Klux Klan hoods. After Jann-Michael Greenburg was elected to the board of directors, Mark is said to have photographed protesters outside of meetings.
“I knew they were concerned about safety and I knew that Mark, Jann-Michael’s father, was doing research to try to identify the extent of the risk,” John Ainlay, committee member of a Democratic club local and friend of Mark Greenburg, told me. “It came up every now and then in the conversation that, you know, so-and-so is a convicted felon. But I was not aware of any files.
According to Wray, the CAN moms stumbled across the case by accident, via an email exchange between Jann-Michael Greenburg and a CAN member named Kim Stafford. Greenburg’s email to Stafford included a screenshot of his desktop, which revealed the URL of a Google Drive folder called CAN Network. “The fact that you have a Google Drive folder with my name on it is on the one hand fascinating, on the other hand disturbing,” Stafford replied. “In a previous email you claimed that I had an obsession with you, but the screenshot you attached from your file suggests that your claim may have been a deviation.” At the time, however, Stafford and the others CAN the members assumed the file was private, Wray told me. It wasn’t until a few months later that one of them typed the address into her browser and realized that the case was open to anyone with the link.