N⁠i⁠cole Ne⁠i⁠ly

July 27, 2023

July 27, 2023

“In the last few years, we’ve found out a lot had been going on behind closed doors in school districts around the country.”

“When I had the idea to create Parents Defending Education, I really didn’t get how bad the problems were in schools. Based on my previous experience working on education issues, I thought we would expose some bad actors, send a letter from an attorney to let the district know they were violating students’ rights, they would say ‘mea culpa’ and undo it, then we’d move on to the next one.”

“That was completely wrong. Instead, they tell us, ‘You’re darn right, we’re doing that. And we’re going to double down.’ This is so much bigger than I even imagined – and they are in lockstep.” 

“Our tipline has been fascinating. Since our launch in March 2021, we have gotten 50 to 200 tips a week from across the country. People think the problems in education are a California-and-Manhattan problem – but it’s not. This is everywhere and in every school, even private and parochial schools.”

“When people know it’s in their backyard, they have a reason to do something. We’re teaching people how to be engaged and advocate for themselves, which is an important component in rebuilding civil society, and giving them options that match their level of risk tolerance.”

“This is a very fraught moment in time and people are scared to speak up. Most do not want to take the slings and arrows of losing their job or having their small business targeted for advocating on behalf of their children – and those are very real threats. But people still continue to come forward, emboldened because they realize it is up to them.”

“The fact that there are people willing to step up and put their sacred honor on the line gives me hope. If every district had a few people who were just looking at invoices, attending school board meetings and holding their elected officials accountable, we’d be in a much better place. We all need to ask questions and dig a little bit deeper. If you think your kids are in a great school with great teachers and administrators, verify that. Since the collapse of local media, it’s up to people at the grassroots level to do that work.”

“We have people who have gone to school board meetings and spoken up, decided to start a parent’s organization or go testify at a state legislature – knowing full well the backlash that they’re going to get.”

“It’s been astonishing watching communities catalyze around education and work together despite disparate backgrounds, interests, political beliefs and other differences.”

“We’ve found what really unites them is the fact that parents expect two things when they drop off their children at the schoolhouse gates – to learn and to be safe. On both counts, schools are falling down at the job, then withholding a horrifying amount of information from families.”

“We’re entitled to transparency in public schools, and schools know we’re aware of that now. It’s been fun to watch teachers and administrators realize they have to think twice about their choices because things aren’t taking place behind closed doors anymore.”

“We have to continue standing up for and demanding change and accountability. Because we – as taxpayers and as parents – deserve better. Unfortunately, the traditional gatekeepers are obviously only concerned about their money and power.”

“At the end of the day, it comes down to us – we the people.”

Nicole Neily
Washington, D.C.

Nicole is the president & founder of Parents Defending Education. She is also the founder of Speech First, a national campus free speech organization, and has worked at the Independent Women’s Forum and the Cato Institute.