Stealth slates of GOP candidates attempted to unseat Democratic incumbents in both the Durham and Orange County school board races last month. Though neither were successful, a number of candidates did surprisingly well in the solidly blue districts, which Duke historian Nancy MacLean said is “a troubling sign that the MAGA faction which has overtaken the national party has many local followers” in an interview with the INDY.

The pervasiveness of the GOP’s national movement to overtake school boards—and the disturbing rhetoric that conservative board members push once seated—is laid out in an investigative ProPublica piece out this week from reporter Nicole Carr. It chronicles the series of events leading to a Black educator getting booted from two school districts in Georgia.

The story follows Cecilia Lewis, a middle school principal who was hired to fill Cherokee County’s first-ever administrator role promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). Before she even started the job, parents, school board members, and local representatives launched a smear campaign to drive off Lewis—and to abolish the newly-created DEI position—claiming that she intended to brainwash students with Critical Race Theory (CRT) and teach them to “hate their own country.” 

From the story: 

National groups, often through their local chapters, have provided video lessons and toolkits to parents across the country on how to effectively spread their messaging about so-called school indoctrination. Parents Defending Education has created “indoctrination maps” tracking everything from a district celebrating “Black Lives Matter week” to one that allows students to watch CNN Student News, while the Atlanta-based Education Veritas and Kahaian’s Protect Student Health Georgia provide portals for anonymously reporting educators supposedly sympathetic to CRT, DEI and other so-called controversial learning concepts.

In the wake of 2020’s summer of racial reckoning, as the work of anti-racist authors shot to the top of bestseller lists and corporations expressed renewed commitments to diversity initiatives, conservatives mounted a counteroffensive against what they viewed as an anti-white, anti-American, “woke” liberal agenda.

As Carr notes later on, CRT is rarely if ever taught in K-12 school systems. Until Cherokee County parents launched their attacks, Lewis hadn’t even heard of CRT—she assumed it stood for “culturally responsive teaching.”

Regardless, the smear campaign persuaded the Cherokee County superintendent to eliminate the DEI role, and Lewis decided to instead take a position as social studies supervisor in neighboring Cobb County. Parents and school board members chased her out of that district, too.

While the majority of Cherokee County residents voted for Trump in 2020, Cobb County, like Durham, is still fairly blue, with more than 50 percent of its school district populated by minority students. And, like Durham, a slate of white conservative candidates ran in Cobb’s last school board election. The difference is that they won.

Support independent local journalismJoin the INDY Press Club to help us keep fearless watchdog reporting and essential arts and culture coverage viable in the Triangle. 

Follow Staff Writer Lena Geller on Twitter or send an email to