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Caution: Extremist Influencers on D65 and Other School Board Races

Indivisible Evanston does not usually take a stand on local races or endorse candidates, although we do help raise awareness about voting during municipal as well as federal elections here in Evanston. However, for the Spring 2023 election, we have serious enough concerns about the groups influencing this election that we believe that it is important to share this information with our members and the general public in Evanston.

In particular, we want to raise awareness and our serious concerns about the connections between conservative outside groups trying to influence the D65 School Board (as well as other local elections around the state). The forces at play in this race that are relevant to one of the issues that we are very concerned about at the state and national level, which is the right-wing attacks on public education (at every level) and the conservative dark money supporting these groups.

According to the grassroots group Illinois Families for Public Schools,* "numerous national extremist organizations supporting anti-public school, anti-equality policies and activity have been organizing in Illinois leading up to the April 4, 2023 local elections, including for school boards and libraries...These national organizations are partnering with state and local organizations to support candidates and slates.

School districts where these organizations have been involved include Barrington D220, Oswego D308, Niles Township High School D219 (and feeder elementary school districts, including Fairview D72, and library board in Lincolnwood), Wheaton-Warrenvile CUSD200, Lyons Township High School D204, Downers Grove High School D99, New Trier Township High School D203, Westmont D201, and others," including D65 in Evanston.

You can find the full list of organizations in their report: DARK MONEY ORGS ON THE GROUND IN SCHOOL BOARD RACES IN ILLINOIS. And while "this isn't a comprehensive resource of what's happening, but we [IFPS] hope it's a place to start for voters and community members researching the candidates on their ballots."

According to the report mentioned above, Ndona Muboyayi, one of the candidates for D65 School Board, has clear links to the far-right group FAIR (a misleading acronym for "Foundation Against Intolerance and Racism"), and was a leader of the Evanston chapter which was created a few years ago. Below is a summary of "FAIR" in the IFPS report, which was updated to include corrected and additional information on 4/2/23.


"FAIR (Foundation Against Intolerance and Racism) is a national group which opposes all types of anti-racism initiatives in education and other policy areas and have been especially active in "anti-CRT" demagoguery. They are also explicitly transphobic. Founding directors include Megyn Kelly (formerly of Fox News) and Christopher Rufo. (Rufo is not currently on the board.) FAIR says they oppose book banning, but, in fact, their website says: "We believe that parents/guardians have the right to advocate for or against particular books being included in school and classroom libraries and curricula," in other words they support efforts to ban books in schools and libraries.

FAIR's Illinois chapter coordinator Carrie Mendoza is the wife of Myles Mendoza, former president of Empower Illinois, the group that led the effort to create Illinois' voucher program (and currently benefits from administering the program as a voucher middleman org that skims millions off the top of the voucher funds they distribute). The former Illinois lobbyist for Betsy DeVos' American Federation for Children (see below) Nate Hoffman is a member of FAIR's board of advisors.

They have attacked Evanston D65 on issues of race and gender as well as New Trier D203. They attended Evanston High School D202 events in the fall of 2021 to disrupt affinity group activities for parents.

To clarify, FAIR wasn't founded by Megyn Kelly (formerly of Fox News), though she came on board as an advisor early on. The organization was founded by Bion Bartning, an entrepreneur from NYC who pulled his children from Riverdale Country School because of its antiracist curriculum and, in response, subsequently started FAIR. Megyn Kelly also removed her children from their NYC private school because they had become too "far-left" and did not align with her ideology, which indicates why her point of view and high profile was a welcome presence on the FAIR Board of Advisors. You can find the most recent iteration of FAIR's staff, Board of Directors and Advisors HERE and a comprehensive summaries of their positions HERE.

In 2021, Christopher Rufo (known for his opposition to critical race theory) announced that he had joined the FAIR Board. Rufo (who is no longer on the board) is a self-described policy scholar and a political combatant, an activist and a polemicist — a journalist. He’s “a right-wing propagandist,” in the words of Rep. Jamie Raskin, the Democrat from Maryland. He’s “a hired gun for the information wars,” in the estimation of rhetoric expert Jen Mercieca." -- You can read more about Rufo HERE in Politico.

If Rufo's name sounds familiar, it's because he is one of the conservative "anti-woke" crusaders that Florida Governor Ron DeSantis placed on the board of trustees of the New College of Florida in a hostile right-wing takeover. Campus Pride, which provides listings of LGBTQ-friendly colleges and universities, recently removed New College from their website due to "recent controversial administrative changes by Florida Governor Ron DeSantis on the campus raise concerns over continued safety and support for LGBTQ+ students." Alex Wagner of MSNBC has also reported on what's happening at the New College, where a "conservative Christian model of education"is being forced on the administration, faculty and students. Here's more on Rufo's attack on higher education in Florida beyond the New College.

Chris Rufo's position on the board of "FAIR" is a huge red flag and, as a result, should concern anyone in Evanston who is considering voting for any candidate running for School Board in our progressive city who is associated in any way with "FAIR."

This is not the first time there has been a connection between D65, FAIR and Christopher Rufo. In 2021, IL FAIR leader Carrie Mendoza described the lawsuit brought by D65 teacher Stacy Deemar against the district as a "brave whistleblower steps up to stop neo-racism and horrifying harm to children and the Evanston community." The nonprofit behind this lawsuit is the Southeastern Legal Foundation, which, according to the ACLU, is one of the right-wing organizations supported by former Trump Secretary of Education Betsy DeVosSoutheastern Legal Foundation works to overturn affirmative action and voting rights legislation. (Source) Both Chicago Magazine and he Daily Northwestern reported that "The Southeastern Legal Foundation is part of conservative activist Christopher Rufo’s legal coalition against critical race theory."

So, how closely is Ndona Muboyayi connected to FAIR? While Joel Sternstein is now listed as the current leader on Evanston's FAIR chapter page, Muboyayi was also listed as a chapter leader recently as February 2023. In October 2022, Muboyayi was identified as an Evanston FAIR co-leader in the Chicago Tribune in a story about FAIR challenging New Trier's anti-racist and inclusivity programs. In addition, here is Muboyayi in a video featured on FAIR's website entitled "Evil Can Come In Any Skin Color." If there is any question on her involvement, last summer she was photographed representing FAIR on their "Pro-Human Tour" (whatever that means) at an event in Kenosha, WI. She recently told The Daily Northwestern that "she no longer works with the organization because she did not believe they were doing the anti-racism work they claimed to do."

As one of four candidates vying for three D65 School Board seats, Muboyayi is no stranger to either running for office or taking publicly controversial positions. In 2021, she previously ran for a seat on the D65 board and lost, and she was also interviewed at the time in The Atlantic regarding her stance against D65's anti-racism curriculum.

You may be wondering why -- if Muboyayi is so connected to FAIR -- have they not endorsed her for D65 School Board? The answer is simple -- as a 501(c)(3) non-profit, they are not permitted to endorse political candidates or engage in political activity aside from nonpartisan voter registration. But their leaders and members can help in other ways, such as volunteering to host campaign events to introduce the candidate to friends, distributing literature or yard signs, or gathering signatures to get candidates on the ballot. Their non-profit status also means that they do not have to disclose their donors or funding sources.

In addition, other community activists whose focus is anti-racism have identified links between D65 Candidate John Martin and FAIR members. Martin has willingly participated in several joint meet & greet events with Muboyayi, some of which have been hosted and promoted by known FAIR members and strong supporters of Muboyayi. If Martin was truly opposed to the values of FAIR, he would neither be knowingly campaigning with Muboyayi nor accepting campaign support from known members of FAIR.

On April 1, a group of District 65 parents, teachers, students and community activists protested the D65 candidates with alleged ties to the Evanston chapter of the FAIR. “Some candidates in this race suggest that the District 65 board could be improved by adding their diversity,” former District 65 Board of Education President and demonstration organizer Anya Tanyavutti said. “They (people involved with FAIR) say the board will be improved by adding a little right-wing dehumanization, racism, transphobia (and) ableism to balance out human rights and social justice work.” Martin and Muboyai are both quoted regarding their direct involvement with FAIR. "Martin, who has also been accused of involvement with the group, has said he wasn’t involved." -- The Daily Northwestern 4/3/23

The third non-incumbent candidate for D65 School Board, Omar Salem, recently announced that he was no longer participating in campaign events. In addition, he self-funded his campaign, spending less than $500 of his own money and asked for donations to the Evanston Community Fridges in lieu of campaign donations. Salem has been endorsed by the members of Democratic Party of Evanston and all five of the D65 teachers' and staff unions.

While Indivisible Evanston is not officially endorsing any candidates in this race, we do support the endorsements of the other three candidates running for D65 School Board (Omar Salem, Mya Wilkins and Sergio Hernandez) by the members of the Democratic Party of Evanston, all the five D65 teachers' and staff unions, and others. Neither Muboyayi nor Martin have been endorsed by any of these organizations whose values and positions on public education, racial justice, LGBTQ+ rights, or other issues are aligned with those of Indivisible Evanston.

Please visit our Spring 2023 Election resource page with information about all the candidates running for office in D65, D202 and City Council. We encourage our members to consider the important information we've shared here when they head to the polls or fill in their mail-in ballots.

Not in Evanston? The ILFPS report has the full list of organizations and the localities where they are active in their report: DARK MONEY ORGS ON THE GROUND IN SCHOOL BOARD RACES IN ILLINOIS as well as the IL FAMILIES FOR PUBLIC SCHOOLS VOTING GUIDE AND RESOURCE DOCUMENT. Knowledge AND voting is power!

*NOTE: We have previously shared our support Illinois Families for Public Schools' work to sunset the Invest in Kids voucher program- [Fact Sheet]. The Invest in Kids Act created a school voucher program in the form of a tax credit scholarship scheme in 2017. The Act was to sunset (expire) after five years, but has already been extended for one year. More than three dozen local, state and national orgs have endorsed letting this program sunset as planned. If no new legislation is passed to amend the act, next school year will be the final year of the program with a sunset date for all provisions of Jan 1, 2025. (As such, there is more than one bill which may move that would implement a sunset or none at all.) Read more about the IFPS campaign to end it here and about our position on ending this program HERE.

Correction: An earlier version of this post identified Megyn Kelly as a co-founder of FAIR. She is on the Board of Advisors. The founder is Bion Bartening. Christopher Rufo was on the Board of Advisors of FAIR, but no longer holds that position. We have updated this report to reflect this, as did ILFPS. You can look up FAIR's current officers HERE. Updated 4/3/23

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