BENTONVILLE, Ark. (KNWA/KFTA) — The 1776 Project Political Action Committee is endorsing five out of the 12 candidates for the Bentonville School Board.
According to its website, the 1776 Project PAC was created to elect school board members who want to abolish critical race theory from schools. Head of Coalitions and Candidate Recruitment for the PAC, Aiden Buzzetti, said the national PAC is aimed at combatting racial and social justice lessons from being taught in schools.
“We want to make sure that they want to promote patriotic education and that they care about the education standards of the school district,” Buzzetti said.
Bentonville candidates Joel Dunning, Gail Pianalto, Matthew Smith, Tim Rosenau and Yoselin Bolivar are endorsed by the 1776 Project PAC. The other candidates in the race include Erron Smith, Jennifer Faddis (incumbent), Blanca Maldonado, Jeremy Farmer, Becky Guthrie, Letisha Hinds, and Tatum Aicklen.
Buzzetti said candidates have to share the PAC’s values in order to get an endorsement. He said the PAC’s biggest value is the desire to eliminate critical race theory in schools. When KNWA/FOX24 asked Buzzetti about critical race theory examples in Bentonville Schools, Buzzetti said he thinks it starts with teachers.
“They don’t always go with that right to the students,” Buzzetti said. “They do target the people that are teaching their students.”
Buzzetti also cited diversity, equity, and inclusion training for teachers, but could not give an example of students being taught lessons in the vein of critical race theory.
Multiple parents, teachers, and former teachers spoke at Tuesday’s school board meeting in support of Bentonville teachers and against outside, national interests.
“Please keep doing what you’re doing and don’t let special interests influence the future of Bentonville students,” one parent at the school board meeting said.
Bentonville Schools released a statement about the PAC.
“We continue to fight baseless accusations against our teachers and staff. The current political rhetoric is rooted in fear, deceit and lies. The teachers in Bentonville Schools are second to none, and we will not allow them to be attacked by outsiders that know nothing of our day-to-day work.”Bentonville Schools
KNWA/FOX24 reached out to all 12 of the candidates for a statement on their thoughts on the 1776 Project PAC’s involvement with the election.
Gail Pianalto was the only candidate endorsed by the 1776 Project PAC that sent a statement to KNWA/FOX24 as of 10 p.m. on Thursday.
“I am proud of this endorsement and also the endorsement that I received from the local chapter of Moms for Liberty. Both of these groups exist to promote American exceptionalism and parental rights within our public schools. As a very patriotic American, I feel that these are wonderful things to promote. I have not received any funding from either one of these organizations.”Gail Pianalto, Bentonville School Board Candidate, Zone 2
KNWA/FOX24 also received the following statements from the candidates not endorsed by the 1776 Project PAC.
“I’ve been contacted by numerous parents in our community expressing concerns about an out-of-state group using dark money to influence our local school board races. As a conservative myself, I share their concerns. I personally trust the voters in our school district to make their own decisions and not be influenced by outsiders who know nothing about our schools, parents, teachers, and community.”Erron Smith, Bentonville School Board Candidate, Zone 1
“Let’s be clear, I absolutely oppose critical race theory from being taught in our schools. When a Dark Money PAC from New York decides to attack our teachers and our schools without even going to the trouble of talking to them, I will not be quiet. Local control of our schools is critical so that families and voters are represented on the Local Board. Turning that local control over to out of state groups is wrong for our students and our district and it must be stopped.”Jennifer Faddis, Bentonville School Board Candidate, Zone 2
“The media has a heavy responsibility in how it sensationalizes fringe groups and helps them become seen as legitimate mainstream ideas. My platform is not funded by the 1776 PAC and that should be enough of a statement, I’m running to represent all of my district, which includes minority groups and groups who feel disenfranchised. People are allowed to have differing opinions, however those differing opinions should not be used to dictate what all students in public’s schools experience, and should not erase all students from being seen.”Blanca Maldonado, Bentonville Schol Board Candidate, Zone 3
“What is happening in Bentonville is very concerning. Most of the candidates backed by the 1776 PAC do not have students in the district and seek to push their misinformed views on our students, teachers, and administration. I hope our community shares the same concern that I do and votes to keep outside special interest funding out of our schools.”Jeremy Farmer, Bentonville School Board Candidate, Zone 3
“From the beginning of my campaign, I have been adamant that politics do not belong in the classroom and that includes critical race theory. The fact that candidates would seek out dark money to influence this election is alarming. I have spent the majority of my adult life either working as a teacher or volunteering in our Bentonville Schools and I believe we have amazing teachers and students for which we should be very proud.Becky Guthrie, Bentonville School Board Candidate, Zone 4
“When it comes to Bentonville Schools, the people who really matter are the students, teachers, and their families who live here, attend our schools and teach our children every day. What really matters is the growth we have seen and will continue to see and addressing the issues that come with that growth, including transportation and after school care shortages. What really matters is that the cost of living is going up in Bentonville, while the pay our teachers and staff receive does not – which very well may lead to a teacher shortage. What really matters is making sure everyone is included no matter their background because education is a great equalizer.
What shouldn’t matter is non-existent problems being parroted by national special interest groups who have a singular goal of pushing their extreme agenda onto the hardworking and community loving voters within the Bentonville School District. I am running to be the voice for every student, parent, teacher, and community member – no matter their background. I’m running on the real issues that are affecting Bentonville now and will affect Bentonville in the future. I’m running because I want to ensure our schools continue to be the place where excellence lives. “Letisha Hinds, Bentonville School Board Candidate, Zone 5
“Outside dark money and special interest groups have no business in our classrooms; only parents and educators do. As a mom to four children in Bentonville Schools and long-time volunteer in our schools, I know this to be true. Local control of our schools is vital to the success of our children and our community.”Tatum Aicklen, Bentonville School Board Candidate, Zone 5