Submitted by Cheri Arkell.
John Arbeeny recently published a letter explaining the “What” and “Who” of Lakewood CARES, a non-partisan 501c4 non-profit in our community interested in controlling public school education. Mr. Arbeeny’s letter was written in a defensive tone as he called those who had never attended a CARES meeting as being ignorant of the mission and purpose behind this group.
If a non-profit seeks to be transparent, they openly publish their vision, mission and purpose so citizens know exactly how they serve the welfare of the community. Lakewood CARES offered none of this transparency until being forced to do so due to growing interest and questions about their involvement in our schools. I would remind Mr. Arbeeny that any secretive group opens the door to questions about their purpose when they insert themselves into the public’s business.
Citizens in the Clover Park School District want to know more about this group of people intent on discrediting our entire school district. Lakewood CARES has a direct link to school board directors David Anderson and Paul Wagemann. Why is it odd for citizens to seek more about a political non-profit’s influence with two school board members who echo the exact same claims made by CARES members?
I have attended our school board meetings for over a year. I listen, observe, question, research and speak up. Through legal public records requests, I have read many communications between CARES members. People associated with CARES from inside and outside our community are deeply invested in deciding what our superintendent, administration, teachers and students should read, teach, learn, see, hear and do. Their beliefs mirror the hyper-partisan claims and conspiracies against public schools and school boards across this country.
In this first letter, I will address some of the claims made by Mr. Arbeeny and add additional context to those claims.
CLAIM: “CARES supported CPSD School Board candidates David Anderson and Jeff Brown by EDUCATING the public on critical CPSD issues.”
Mr. Arbeeny is correct. Lakewood CARES gave David Anderson and Jeff Brown their full support during the school board campaign. CARES met weekly with the Anderson and Brown Campaigns to give them everything they needed and to strategize their campaigns. However, why did Mr. Arbeeny fail to inform readers that David Anderson is registered as a leader of CARES? Jeff Brown receives emails concerning CARES business. Is he a member? Why is membership in this group such a secret?
FACT: School Director David Anderson, John Arbeeny and James Cooper registered as “governors”/leaders of this 501c4 political non-profit in May of 2021. Although CARES has been around for years, these three men suddenly became more active in 2021. While David Anderson campaigned for a “non-partisan” school board position, he shared leadership of what appears from all evidence to be a far-right political group. One of Anderson’s campaign promises was to “take politics out of education”. Did he deliver on that promise to citizens while campaigning and after being elected? Citizens have asked David Anderson to explain his role in Lakewood CARES and he has ignored those requests. Why? Is this the transparency he promised our citizens?
CLAIM: “CARES became most active again in 2020/2021 in response to the Clover Park School District’s lack of ACCOUNTABILITY and RESPONSIBILITY with regard to our children’s education.”
This claim is partially true. CARES did become more active in 2020/2021. However, Arbeeny’s claim of “lack of “accountability” and “responsibility” with regard to our children’s education” is an opinion and not a fact.
OBSERVATION: CARES jumped on the anti-CRT bandwagon driven by Christopher Rufo, Tucker Carlson, Steve Bannon and other hyper-partisan extremists. In 2021, Lakewood CARES embraced the conspiracy that any public school’s Equity Policy was a sinister attempt to indoctrinate students. In 2021, FOX News put out multiple daily warnings that Critical Race Theory (CRT) was being taught in public schools and that equity, diversity, and inclusion were all a Marxist plot to turn our students into communists. Paul Wagemann actually repeated these same claims at the September 13, 2021 school board meeting.
Looking back, we can see the connections between this hyper-partisan ideology and the letters published and authored by three CARES members: John Arbeeny, Pad Finnigan and Jeff Brown. Listed is a sample of these letters and a quotation taken from them. Notice the dates, tone, language and claims made coming from CARES members – all made public during the school board election.
June 22, 2021: “All In the Family” by John Arbeeny: published in Suburban Times: “How has her (Alyssa Pearson) support of the racially based Critical Race Theory and its trinity of equity, inclusion and diversity helped turn academic performance around?”
July 15, 2021: “The Cat is Out of the Bag” by John Arbeeny: published in Suburban Times: “These pompous CRT sycophants passing as educators see themselves as the arbiters of what children are taught.”
July 27, 2021: “Two Consistent Questions” by Jeff Brown: published in Suburban Times: “CRT is racist in itself and if implemented in our schools, it will ‘pit’ one race against itself and all of the others as well.”
July 28, 2021: “The Frauds within a Fraud: CPSD Critical Race Theory ‘Stakeholders’” by John Arbeeny: published in Suburban Times: “Make no mistake about it these stakeholders do not represent parents and students of Clover Park School District. They represent the “intellectual elite” promised by WEB Du Bois a century ago and the many academic proponents of CRT since the 1970’s to lead the “people of color” into the future whether we like it or not; whether we vote for it or not;…”
Sept. 6, 2021: “Lakewood People Who Care About Schools, USA Future PART I”: by Pad Finnigan: published in Suburban Times: “Well briefly the school district wants to implement a racist policy that will pit white students against all others and label white students as oppressors and the others oppressed.”
Sept. 7, 2021: “Lakewood People Who Care About Schools, USA Future PART II”: by Pad Finnigan: published in Suburban Times: “So CRT, disguised as an Equity Policy, must be stopped in the Clover Park School District because it is just another tool in the arsenal of Marxists who want Americans to reject democracy and capitalism in favor of becoming a socialist /communist country.”
Sept 8, 2021: “Lakewood People Who Care About Schools, USA Future PART III”: by Pad Finnigan: published in Suburban Times: “We know that critical race theory, also labeled equity policies, comes from Marxist academics pursuing a socialist government. Their theory substituted racial divisions for class-warfare as a step toward stoking a socialist revolution.”
OBSERVATION: People associated with Lakewood CARES continue to claim that our three non-partisan board members and superintendent are promoting hatred and racism due to the Equity Policy that was adopted. In doing so, they also infer that our Lakewood City Council, Lakewood YMCA, Pierce College, JBLM and any other organizations or institutions supporting equity are engaged in a subversive Marxist plot.
CLAIM: “CARES members and supporters collectively bring a wealth of life’s experience and common sense to the table.”
This claim is difficult to verify. Is Arbeeny claiming that Lakewood CARES is qualified to run a school district? A wealth of collective experiences and common sense does not equal competence in a given area of expertise. Is Lakewood CARES also qualified due to their collective experiences to be in charge of our local fire department and to tell the chief how to manage firefighters and what trucks and hoses to use? How about our Lakewood Police? It would be absurd.
OBSERVATION: Community members have every right to be involved in our schools. However, there are outside forces pushing to destroy trust in public school education by stoking culture wars. The CARES’ CRT claims of “indoctrination” were the identical claims being made by extreme conservative groups at the national level. Are we expected to trust that the two CARE members sitting on our school board are not engaged with sources and organizations outside of our community in an effort to control our schools?
CLAIM: “CARES was founded in 1999 as a non-partisan 501c4 organization…”
FACT: This is what they claimed. Where is the proof they are non-partisan?
OBSERVATION: CARES may say they are non-partisan, but their association with the Republican Party seems to be quite solid. Director Anderson made no secret of the training and support he and Jeff Brown received from the Pierce County Republican Party during their campaigns. Many of the names on their campaign donor lists are directly tied to CARES and to those in the Republican Party. On April 29, 2022 David Anderson hosted a private showing of a controversial far-right documentary attacking teacher unions which was promoted by the Pierce County Republican Party on their website. According to public records, Lakewood CARES meets at the address of the Pierce County Republican Party located in Lakewood. It is difficult to claim you are a non-partisan organization when you receive support from one political party. If this information is incorrect, I welcome correction.
Lakewood CARES expects transparency from others, but they have chosen to keep citizens in the dark concerning their involvement in our school district. With two CARES members on our board, the public deserves to be told more. A follow-up letter will focus on the most irresponsible claim made by those associated with Lakewood CARES.