By Brad Jones
Parents from several states say they’ve been harassed online, stalked, doxed, and reported to their employers for criticizing school boards about what they see as a tectonic shift from reading, writing, and arithmetic to the promotion of radical political and social ideas, along with extreme COVID-19 polices in the last couple of years.
Substitute Teacher Ousted
Jessica Garland, a registered nurse who had worked as a substitute teacher since 2018 in Maryland’s Carroll County, told The Epoch Times she was unofficially fired from her role as a substitute teacher after she participated in a protest with the Florida-based nonprofit Moms for Liberty in the fall of 2021.
Even though the county had decided against implementing a mask mandate, Garland said the Maryland Board of Education required children to wear masks to school.
Moms for Liberty and others staged a “shoe protest” outside the Carroll County Public Schools office in Westminster in November 2021, Garland said. The mothers placed about 350 pairs of kids’ shoes—some with notes from the children tucked inside them, saying they didn’t want to be in masks or quarantined—and removed the shoes the next day.
“The whole town was in an uproar,” she said. “They wanted us arrested. Oh, it was crazy!”
The next day, Garland was removed from the list of eligible substitute teachers despite a teacher shortage. She says she was never given a reason, and her phone calls were not returned.
Garland later discovered someone had filed a police complaint over the protest. The complaint was later dismissed, but Garland suspects the board used the complaint as a reason to remove her from the list of substitute teachers.
A local school also released the home address of the local Moms for Liberty chapter chair Kit Hart which was posted on social media. According to Garland, school officials said it was within the law for them to release the address in response to public information requests.
“I would think those things need to be redacted,” she said.
Jami Reese, a mom and nurse in North Carolina said she was targeted after opposing mask mandates for children at a Transylvania County Board of Education meeting.
“I was reported to the Board of Nursing. They contacted me to investigate,” she said. “It was pretty traumatic and stressful. I was attacked by people who I thought were my friends and slandered online.”
When she also spoke out against critical race theory, Reese found out a Facebook group that claims to fight racism and pushes for students to be expelled from college and people fired from their jobs added her name to their list.
While her job was spared, and she was eventually removed from the list, Reese claims her son was falsely accused in an incident at school and was expelled more than a year ago.
“I had my home address published online, and the Board of Education came after my kid,” she said. “I won’t stop. I’m $20,000 into a lawsuit against them.”
Moms for Liberty is nonpartisan, and Reese said most local members, including herself, are not affiliated with a political party. Yet, she said, “We were labeled by the local Democratic Party as a hate group.”
Reese said it’s a violation of free speech when certain groups of people are “emboldened to spew hate” on others because of their political beliefs.
“I would never do that. I absolutely respect differing opinions. That’s how we learn. That’s how we grow.”
Police Officer Accused
Sandra Hernden, a parent and police officer in Macomb County, Michigan, joined Moms for Liberty to protest school closures, lockdowns, the mandatory masking of schoolchildren, and the threat of forced vaccinations.
During the lockdowns, Hernden noticed her “once bright, bubbly kids” were depressed and not learning much in virtual classes, which she called an ineffective “dumpster fire.”
When a local student committed suicide, parents “were in a frenzy” and worried about the mental health of their children. So, Hernden emailed the Chippewa Valley school board trustees demanding that schools be reopened, but her complaint wasn’t well received by Elizabeth Pyden, a school board trustee.
Pyden wrote a letter to Hernden’s employer, the police department in Harper Woods accusing Hernden of “veiled racism” and disrespecting school board trustees.
“I do not believe that you would like anyone expressing this level of anger, disrespect and veiled racism in your community,” Pyden wrote in the letter to the police chief.
“Her intent was obviously to get me fired,” Hernden said.
In an email to The Epoch Times on Aug. 20, Pyden denied her intent was to get Hernden fired, claiming the accusation is “100% false.” However, Pyden declined to explain the intent behind her letter.
“While I do not expect you to take any adverse action, I do believe that is important for you to know how one of your officers is conducting herself within the community,” Pyden wrote in the letter to the police chief.
When Hernden found out about the letter, she filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to get a copy of it.
At another time, during a school board meeting, Hernden objected to polices requiring that only the unvaccinated wear masks, which she compared to tactics used in Nazi Germany to stigmatize, humiliate, and persecute Jews.
Though she’s not Jewish, Hernden said her family immigrated from Poland, where her uncle helped Jews escape from Nazi Germany during World War II. Her uncle was eventually imprisoned in Auschwitz, a notorious Nazi death camp and later transferred to Dachau, Hernden told The Epoch Times.
“I had brought up the similarities between masks and the gold stars that European Jews had to wear, and the [prisoners’] tattoos being like the vaccines,” she said.
Hernden made the comment following news reports that the National School Boards Association (NSBA) wrote a letter to the Biden administration saying parents who criticize school boards are contributing to threats of violence, which “could be the equivalent to a form of domestic terrorism and hate crimes,” and had urged the U.S. Department of Justice under Attorney General Merrick Garland to intervene.
In response to Hernden’s remark, Chippewa Valley School Board President Frank Bednard stated to school board members in an email he intended to report Hernden and Moms for Liberty to the DOJ.
When Hernden found out and asked to see the email, she was told it didn’t exist, even after filing a FOIA request. However, the email did exist, and she eventually got a copy of it.
In his Oct. 5, 2021, letter, Bednard thanked the DOJ for looking into groups of people showing up at school board meetings and threatening “anybody that stands in their way.”
Bednard accused Moms for Liberty of “threats and intimidation,” and singled out Hernden as a ringleader.
“This woman, Sandra Hernden, comes to every meeting to harass our board, administration and community who oppose her views. She is over dramatic and refuses to listen to any direction I may give her about inappropriate and threatening comments. Last week she compared the tattoos Nazi Germany gave Jewish people to identify them in WW2 to masking mandates today,” Bednard wrote.
Bednard did not responded to an inquiry about the accusations he made in the letter nor why it wasn’t provided in response to a FOIA request.
As a police officer for more than 24 years, Hernden said she is trained as “fact-finder” and “truth seeker,” and believes in holding people accountable for their actions, including the local school board. She is currently building a legal case against the board.
Although Hernden still works in law enforcement, she eventually retired from the Harper Woods police department and left the city.
Rhonda Garman, a realtor and Moms for Liberty chapter chair in York County, Penn., has alleged that Patricia Jackson, a language arts teacher at Central York High School, and some students have targeted her on social media since she and other parents began exposing explicit sexual content in books available to students more than a year ago.
One of the books, “All Boys Aren’t Blue,” contains graphic illustrations and descriptions of gay sex, which Garman read aloud at a Central York school board meeting on May 16, 2022, in the hopes the board would remove it. She told The Epoch Times on Aug. 21 the book is still available to high school students in the school’s digital library.
Garman said that Jackson has made it her mission to go on social media using aliases to discourage people from hiring Garman as a realtor, even using the hashtag “#Wreck-a-realtor.”
Jackson also referred to parents speaking out at school board meetings as “domestic terrorists,” in a Nov. 2, 2021 post on her personal Facebook account.
Garman complained to the school superintendent about the allegations which, she said, are now under investigation.
Jackson said in an email on Aug. 22 in response to an Epoch Times inquiry that she has been advised by her employer not to speak about Garman or any issues related to her.
“This instruction was made at her request, and I have honored this directive,” Jackson said.
Jackson also declined to comment about students, which she said would violate Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) “with regard to teacher handling of confidentiality.”
Meanwhile, Nicole Montgomery, communications director for the district, stated in an email to The Epoch Times on Aug. 22, “The Central York School District is aware of these allegations and views this issue as a non-district matter.”
Additionally, Garman has opposed the tenets of critical race theory being taught through Social Emotional Learning (SEL).
“We don’t want this stuff in our schools because it’s actually dividing—not bringing [people] together. It’s making the white kids and white teachers feel as though they are privileged and it’s white supremacy, and making them feel horrible and guilty and making the black kids and the brown kids feel as though they are owed reparations for how many years ago for [their] ancestors. That’s the problem,” she said.
She is also concerned about the amount and type of data school districts collect about students and their families through surveys, saying that’s none of their business.
“Let’s get back to teaching our kids to read and write,” she said.
Many teachers have shared too much information with students, including their sexual and political preferences, she contends.
“I never knew that when I was in school—never. They’re telling them if they are binary, nonbinary, gender fluid, [or] trans. They share this because these teachers have also been indoctrinated in college,” Garman said.
Livelihoods, Businesses Impacted
Kourtney Elizabeth, the Moms for Liberty chapter chair in Lexington County, South Carolina, said the CEO of a local hospital drove by a Moms for Liberty protest and recorded the event outside the facility in an attempt to identify and target hospital employees at the event.
Another mother in Indiana, who asked not to be named for fear of retaliation, told The Epoch Times her husband lost longtime clients—many of them teachers—at his business because the couple took a stance against mask mandates.
“We lost clients because I represent Moms for Liberty,” she said.
The couple eventually pulled their children from school because their religious exemption requests for masks were denied.
Later, when parents began to ask questions about critical race theory over a diversity, equity, and inclusion convocation for students that was planned at a local school, the school refused to share specifics about what would be discussed, and the event was cancelled, she said.
“So that raised red flags,” she said.
Shift to Gender Issues
Tiffany Justice, co-founder of Moms for Liberty, said aggression against the group has intensified as more parents are starting to criticize gender ideology and so-called “gender-affirming care” for minors.
“It’s guerilla warfare,” she said.
“We’ve got moms who spoke at a school board meeting and FBI field offices called the moms to check them out,” she said.
Meanwhile, Moms for Liberty has reported dozens of threats to the FBI but has received no indication the complaints have been investigated, Justice said.
Last month, Justice was locked out of her Moms for Liberty Twitter account for “hateful conduct” for criticizing proposed legislation that would make California a trans sanctuary state for parents of children who identify as transgender. The legislation, Senate Bill 107 authored by state Sen. Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco), would shelter parents who consent to the use of puberty blockers, cross-sex hormones, and gender transition surgery on their children from prosecution in other states that view such actions as child abuse.
“Twitter needs to catch up and recognize there are activist organizations that are trying to harm normal, regular parental rights groups who are doing nonpartisan work,” she said.
Moms for Liberty is simply trying to raise awareness about a bill in California that’s encouraging minors to go to California “so that the government can pay for gender transition surgery for these kids,” she said.
Justice said she personally stands for freedom, liberty, parental rights, and “the innocence of children.”
“I am bold, and I’m building an army of moms who are bold, who are not going to allow their children to be forced to live in a world where truth is subjective and communism reigns,” she said.
As a mother of four, Justice said she knows what it means to be a “woman,” referring to the recent debate over the meaning of the word.
“I’m very concerned. And I will not stand for anyone who says that being a woman is something that’s a feeling. It’s not true. There are men and women, and men cannot be women, and I’m standing for truth,” she said. “Why do people want to erase what a woman is?”
Pat Blackburn, Moms for Liberty’s chapter chair coordinator, says the nationwide group now has more than 100,000 parents—both mothers and fathers—getting involved in issues that focus heavily on parental rights.
“We are in an ideological war, and the other side is using guerrilla tactics because they can’t meet us on an even playing field. They can’t just engage civically and win this conversation. We’re engaged civically, we are active in the community, and we are advocating for parental rights at all levels of government,” said Blackburn who lives in North Carolina.
A survey of parents published by the Virginia-based nonprofit research group Parental Rights Foundation on May 31 found 83 percent of Americans agree that: “In general, parents have the constitutional right to make decisions for their children without government interference unless there is proof of abuse or neglect.”
The poll found that 51 percent of respondents strongly agreed with the statement, while 10 percent disagreed, 3 percent strongly disagreed, and about 6 percent said they were “not sure.” Among Republicans, 90 percent supported the statement and 64 percent strongly supported it. About 83 percent of Democrats supported it while 44 percent said they were strongly supportive. Among Independents, 78 percent supported the statement and 47 percent were strongly supportive.
Celeste Fiehler, who hopes to launch a Moms for Liberty chapter in California Riverside County, said she has also experienced backlash from her local school board and city council.
“Standing up for children comes with a price—a price that many have parents have endured,” she said. “I have been doxed and stalked in my community. I’ve been labeled as ‘unpigmented’ by a school board candidate and an educator after speaking against the ‘woke’ curriculum at my school board meeting.”
Fiehler said she has been followed to her car by police three separate times after city council meetings for questioning city policies and asking “why local law enforcement officers are leaving in droves.”
Though the backlash can be draining at times, she said many parents and other members of the community have supported her.
“The more you speak out, the more you build the platform for others who feel alone like I did,” she said, urging more parents to stand up to defend children and teachers who are either too afraid or can’t speak up against school policies.