Rhode Island mom Nicole Solas says she is just one of many parents “with legitimate concerns about our kids’ education.”
Solas drew national attention earlier this year when her local school board in South Kingstown, Rhode Island, threatened to sue her over public record requests she made to learn what her local school district was teaching students. The school board ultimately opted against taking legal action against her.
But Solas made headlines again in August when a teachers union, the National Education Association Rhode Island, filed a lawsuit against her over the records requests.
Solas made the requests to determine whether her child would be taught about gender identity and critical race theory ideology, two controversial issues that have led to an increase in parental attendance at school board meetings across the country this year.
Parents “simply want to know what their kids are learning, and they want to have a say if what their kids are learning is not appropriate,” she says.
Solas is actively speaking out against Attorney General Merrick Garland’s order to the FBI and federal prosecutors to meet with federal, state, and local leaders to look into a “disturbing spike in harassment, intimidation, and threats of violence” allegedly being made against “school administrators, board members, teachers, and staff.”
Garland’s directive came less than a week after the National Association of School Boards asked President Joe Biden for assistance looking into whether threats against school board members and other school leaders could be classified as “domestic terrorism.”
Solas joins “The Daily Signal Podcast” to share her personal story of speaking out against her local school board and to discuss Garland’s order.
We also cover these stories:
- Congress reaches an agreement to raise the debt ceiling.
- Former President Donald Trump asks a federal judge to order Facebook to reinstate his account.
- Texas will appeal a federal judge’s injunction against the state’s pro-life Heartbeat Act.
Listen to the podcast below or read the lightly edited transcript.
Virginia Allen: I am so pleased to be joined by Rhode Island mom and education advocate Nicole Solas. Nicole, thank you so much for being here.
Nicole Solas: Hi, Virginia. Great to talk to you.
Allen: Nicole, there is a major battle going on right now over the future of education. And really, it’s a battle for the future of our kids. We’re seeing more and more schools embrace the teaching of critical race theory and gender ideology.
This issue is personal to you, Nicole. You’ve told your story here at The Daily Signal. We’ve reported on it, but for those who are not familiar with your story, could you take us back to early 2021 when you enrolled your kindergarten daughter in your local public school? Tell us what happened.
Solas: Yeah. So, I called my principal and I asked her questions about kindergarten. And then I also asked her a specific question about critical race theory and gender theory. I wanted to know if they were teaching it and how they were. The principal told me that they don’t call the children “boys and girls.” They refrain from using gender terminology and they integrate the values of gender identity in the classroom at all grades at an age-appropriate level. And with critical race theory or anti-racism—which is really the same thing, it’s a principle or tenets of critical race theory—she said that they teach children a certain line of thinking about history, also in every grade, at an age-appropriate level.
Specifically in kindergarten, they asked the children, “What could have been done differently on the first Thanksgiving?” And that is a ridiculous question to ask a 5-year-old, it’s obviously a way to shame them for their American heritage.
And when I asked more questions about this, she didn’t want to answer them. And she told me to submit public records requests to have all of my questions answered, which were questions like, “Well, what do you ask them in first grade and second grade? And what else do you do with gender theory? How exactly do you integrate these values into the classes?”
So when I submitted my public records requests, my school then turned around and threatened to sue me for submitting what they thought was too many public records requests. And all this time they were complying with my public records requests. Sometimes they would say, “Oh, did you mean this instead of that?” But then one day they just surprised me and put my name on a public school board meeting agenda. And it said that they were going to discuss and take action against Nicole Solas for submitting 160 public records requests.
So, I had never been to a school board meeting before, this was my first one, and it was where they gave me a show trial and they talked about my moral character. They discussed the political motivations I must have for daring to ask questions about critical race theory and gender theory. They had people speak against me, call me racist. They had exhibits of evidence with all my public records requests that I had submitted, as if posting them would somehow shame me. But at the end of the meeting, they voted not to sue me.
I had a tidal wave of supportive people come out that were demanding that public information be public information. They shamed the school committee for bullying me. It was a real victory for open government, transparency, and education, and told school boards that they weren’t going to bully parents.
But then a couple months later, the teachers union did sue me. And the [National Education Association], the largest teachers union in America, sued me because they want to prevent the disclosure of public information from coming out of my public records requests because they think that teachers will be harassed if we know about how they’re teaching critical race theory in the school district.
Of course, nobody wants anyone to be harassed, but this is a matter of public concern and they deserve to have public scrutiny if they’re teaching these divisive and toxic ideologies to kids at public school.
So, sort of the rundown of everything that’s happened to me in the past four months.
Allen: That’s a lot in a handful of months that has unfolded. And you went from sort of the beginning of the year in the spring [from] just, “I’m enrolling my daughter in kindergarten. I want to find out what she’s going to be learning,” to, “Oh, I have to submit public record requests to get that information. Wait a second, the school board is now threatening to sue me for those schoolwork requests. No, they’re not suing me, but now the union, the teachers union, the National Education Association, is suing [me].” I mean, what a roller coaster to go on.
Nicole, what have you been feeling through this process? I mean, as you chose to stand and speak at that school board meeting and defend yourself as you learned that the teachers union was suing you, what have been some of the emotions that you have been feeling?
Solas: In the beginning, I was very nervous to go public because I had never had media attention. I had never really wanted it. But I felt like it was necessary because my school was publicly attacking me. And I felt like I had to have a public response to show them that I wasn’t just going to quietly let them walk all over me. …
They wanted to publicly humiliate me. They paid a PR firm to call me a racist in the national media. So they really wanted to ostracize me from my community. And you know, it, by virtue of that, ostracized my kids and my husband. So I was scared of the media attention, but I wasn’t scared to confront my school board. …
I really want to encourage other parents to transform any fear they have of retaliation into contempt for these public officials that you pay. They’re your civil servants and we shouldn’t be scared of confronting them. We believe that they are really abusing our kids with this divisive and toxic ideology.
From the beginning, I was scared, but now I’m just really angry and I want things to be fixed. I know it sounds a little simplistic, but the reason why I’m still out here in the public eye is because I think it’s really important to finish the fight and to get other people to tap into the fighter in them for their kids.
Allen: I know you are still in the middle of that lawsuit with the teachers union or waiting to see how that pans out, but Nicole, your story is really relevant right now.
Last week, the National Association of School Boards asked President Joe Biden for assistance looking into whether threats against school board members and other school leaders could be classified as domestic terrorism.
In response, on Monday, Attorney General Merrick Garland ordered the FBI and federal prosecutors to meet with federal, state, and local leaders in each federal judicial district across the country. And the purpose of those meetings is to look into what Garland says is a disturbing spike in harassment, intimidation, and threats of violence being made against school administrators, board members, teachers, and staff.
Nicole, are you a domestic terrorist?
Solas: No, I am not a domestic terrorist. No other parent that is advocating for their kids at school board meetings are domestic terrorists. We are parents with legitimate concerns about our kids’ education.
Attorney General Garland is trying to frame this in terms of threats of violence, but he is singling out and targeting parents because if he were really concerned about violence, where was the FBI mobilization when buildings and businesses were burning to the ground during summer riots?
Where’s the mobilization of the FBI when they’re out for congressional hearings? Those are public meetings for people where people are contentiously yelling about things that they don’t like. Because that’s really what’s happening in school board meetings. At school board meetings, parents are angry and they’re expressing that anger, [which] they’re allowed to do.
But it’s violence that Garland is lying about. I mean, let’s just put it out there. He is a lying propaganda saying that all of this violence or threats of violence is happening, because there was no evidence of that. And even if there were violence happening in school board meetings, which there isn’t, and no one condones it and no one wants that to happen, that would be a matter for the local police.
Garland is having multilevel law enforcement meetings as if parents truly are domestic terrorists, like the National School Boards Association said we were. And it’s scary because you’re starting to see how this fits into this broader political narrative where the federal government is really trying to purge ideological opponents. We saw this happen in the military and we see it happening in cancel culture, and now it’s happening to parents.
In the beginning we were called fascist and then they call you racists. Now they’re calling you terrorists. And it sure looks like they’re learning that these magic words that they call you don’t have the impact that they thought it would have, because we’re still standing up and going to these school board meetings, despite being disdained and accused of those things.
So now they’re threatening real action. In Rhode Island, the Rhode Island Association of School Committees emails, it sends a letter to the president and now wants to coordinate with the FBI against moms like me in Rhode Island.
So [in] this crazy time that we’re living in, I can’t even believe it’s happening, you really learn who’s willing to put their boots on your neck, given the opportunity. And when this is all over, we all need to remember who those people were, because we can’t trust them anymore.
Allen: It certainly is a crazy time in history. I mean, I was thinking, I don’t remember another time in history where we have seen so many parents going to school board meetings, voicing concerns. Why are so many parents standing up right now and expressing those concerns?
Solas: I think they finally saw what their kids were learning when COVID happened and see what’s going on on the computer. And I think once you see the toxic lessons that they’re teaching kids—social-emotional learning, critical race theory—it’s very hard to just pretend like you didn’t see or hear what you just heard.
And I think school boards are not used to having parents hold them accountable. And then likewise, parents are not used to having a public entity tell you that you don’t have a right to know what your kids are learning and they’re just going to set you out. That is like antithetical to me, the parent, for someone to look at you and be like, “No, you don’t have a right to be here and you don’t have a right to ask your question.”
So I think we’re clashing with these … politicians and these political interest parties. And we’re learning that we thought we were putting our kids in school and they were going to have an education and that this would all work out and here we are just caring about what our kids are learning when really public school has a lot of special interests that care about their wealth and their power and their political agenda. And parents just woke up to that and they’re not going to tolerate that.
Allen: Do you think that it is those special interests that are really driving the situation? I mean, education shouldn’t be a controversial thing. We can all agree, no matter your political leanings, that we want our kids to have the best education, to learn in an environment where they feel safe and cared for and where they’re challenged. What is all of a sudden now driving all this controversy?
Solas: I don’t think until you start engaging public school do you understand how profoundly political and convoluted it is. I graduated from public school and of course, I was unaware of it, as said, but once you start using it, it’s kind of like mind-blowing how illogical it can be. And this is education, it’s supposed to be logical, just makes sense.
I think there’s a really long or big gravy thing here. So we have people that are making money off of public education with outside consulting firms—diversity, equity, and inclusion. And it’s very tricky because this whole machine, this whole political machine that’s very profitable in public education, will use words that we think we agree on the meaning and we really don’t.
Diversity, equity, inclusion, for example, doesn’t mean what parents think it means when you hear it, right? Like, you don’t know that “equity” doesn’t really mean “equality,” but someone who’s not paying attention may think, “How can you be against diversity equity?” Of course you want a society that values … diversity, but that’s not really what it’s about.
So I think parents just haven’t been paying attention for a long time. And public schools are always trying to get money and funding. And then outside consulting firms like DEI, come in and say, “Oh, well, we have a way for you to get your funding if you just pay a certain dataset, that you have a certain level of diversity, equity, inclusion.” So I guess it’s way more convoluted than we ever thought it would be.
Allen: And now we certainly are seeing so many parents starting to investigate what’s actually happening, looking into, “Wait a second, what is going on? Why is the FBI involved?” What was your reaction and first thought when you learned that Attorney General Merrick Garland was getting the FBI involved in looking into the alleged incidents of violence against teachers and other school staff?
Solas: I mean, I posted a tweet that said, “Arrest me.” I mean, I dare you to do something about me going to my school committee meetings and asking questions of the people that I pay to educate my kid. I mean, I dare you, arrest parents. … Fine, go. I mean, do we really want to destroy the country?
I think we kind of need to dare them a little bit to walk that walk because that is not the path we want to go down when we start threatening parents with a federal investigation just because the schools don’t like what they’re asking them.
I mean, we have legitimate concerns and now the FBI wants to intimidate us and have a chilling effect on parents who simply want to know what their kids are learning and they want to have a say if what their kids are learning is not appropriate. So, that’s my response.
I know other people are scared—it’s not to dismiss being scared, this is the federal government and they have power over us and we need to take it seriously—but we need to not stick our heads in the sand and the fence. If they’re trying to chill our speech, then we need to talk louder and we need to talk more and we can’t let them chill our speech.
Allen: What is your encouragement to parents right now who are thinking, “Oh, I really need to speak out. I should get involved, but I am scared”? The situation is escalating quickly, and they might be really nervous to start weighing in.
Solas: Well, I think parents need to be assured that you’re going to have more support than you think, because it’s like a domino effect. When one parent speaks out, another parent feels like it’s safe for them to speak out. And you just need one person to start that.
Like in my community, I don’t think anyone was talking about this until I spoke out. And now my support system is larger than I ever thought it would be. I have more friends and allies than I ever imagined. So even though I was retaliated against and they called me racist and I had that five-hour meeting of them bullying me, I’m the one that came out on top.
So even if you are retaliated against, you’ll overcome it, and I can almost guarantee you won’t regret it because you’re going to be opening the door for other people to talk. And know that there are other organizations like nonprofits, public interest law firms, and media outlets that want to support you. For example, Legal Insurrection is a fantastic outlet … that you can contact. Bill Jacobson is in Rhode Island, and he wants to showcase your story if something happens to you and you’re being harassed or bullied.
So you’re not alone, even though you feel like you’re alone, but you do have to take that risk and say something first and just know that it’s going to be OK.
Allen: Yeah. Bill Jacobson is an excellent resource over at Legal Insurrection. We’ve had him on this podcast a couple of times and really appreciate the work that he does. And Nicole, we appreciate you coming on, your time today, and you willing to share your story. Thank you so much.
Solas: Thank you.
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