A growing national group that advocates for parental rights is taking a keen interest in this year’s school board races in Lexington County.

The Lexington chapter of Moms for Liberty has endorsed three candidates for county school boards in the Nov. 8 election  — Aaron Granade and Katie McCown in the District 1 race for three seats being surrendered by incumbents and Elizabeth Barnhardt in the Lexington-Richland District 5 race for four contested seats.

Both fields are crowded, and the Lexington 1 race features nine other candidates not endorsed by any groups.

Moms for Liberty decided to endorse these candidates because they share the same values as the self-proclaimed nonpartisan 501c4 organization, Kourtney O’Hara, chair of the Lexington County chapter, told the Chronicle.

O’Hara said the group endorses school board candidates since those bodies are nonpartisan as is their group. While there are other nonpartisan offices in the county, O’Hara added, the chapter is only allowed to endorse school board candidates as it aligns with its mission statement.

According to the Moms for Liberty website and that of the Lexington County chapter, “Moms for Liberty is dedicated to fighting for the survival of America by unifying, educating and empowering parents to defend their parental rights at all levels of government.”

By endorsing candidates whose values align with Moms for Liberty, O’Hara hopes to give a voice to the community while providing transparency with regards to policies and procedures around the schools and Lexington 1 district.

“Our main goal is to get academics back to the forefront in [Lexington County] schools and provide the best education possible for students,” said O’Hara.

O’Hara is intent on working towards a main goal of improving education and communication, and whether their endorsed candidates win or lose, she said she wants to work with elected officials at all levels of government. 

Parental rights are high on the list of factors motivating McCown and Granade to run for the Lexington 1 school board, they told the Chronicle.

McCown advocates for pulling in parent voices through a town-hall-style forum. Granade said he is ultra-conservative and believes there is a lack of transparency, which is a hot word with all the candidates in the Lexington 1 race.

While its endorsements come in nonpartisan races, Moms for Liberty’s Lexington chapter has shown it doesn’t back down from a fight.

The group confronted Lexington 1 board member Brent Powers at an August meeting during public comment and asked him to step down, accusing from threatening a parent in an email.

Moms for Liberty has drawn some criticism for the way it's handled itself in the county.

Katie Jeffcoat, a Lexington 1 mother, told the Chronicle she feels the group that claims to be nonpartisan frequently discusses ultra-conservative issues.

“I think Moms for Liberty is divisive and causing problems in the community,” she said. “We have a chance to come together and help the students and staff recover from the past two years [with COVID-19].”

Jeffcoat continued, “The fact of the matter is they are pulling the focus away from real issues that affect our district and mainly doing a disservice to our students and staff by fostering a culture of division and sensationalism rather than collaboration and critical thinking that leads to problem solving.”

The other nine candidates in the Lexington 1 race had nothing ill to say about the Moms for Liberty chapter.

Candidate Chris Rice plainly stated to the Chronicle, “My hope is that our citizens would take the time to research all the candidates for themselves and then make their own decision on who to support or vote for rather than depending solely on any particular organization's thoughts.”

Nicholas Pizzuti, another candidate, said trust has been lost between the public and the school board. He believes there is no place for politics or political ideology in the schools.

Candidate Dana Homesley said she agrees that students and staff need to be at the forefront.