Submitted by Cheri Arkell.
John Arbeeny recently published a letter explaining the “what” and “who” of Lakewood CARES, a nonpartisan 501c4 nonprofit organization in our community interested in controlling education in public schools. Mr. Arbeeny’s letter was written in a defensive tone as he called those who had never attended a CARES meeting ignorant of the mission and purpose of this group.
If a nonprofit seeks to be transparent, it openly publishes its vision, mission, and purpose so that citizens know exactly how it serves the well-being of the community. Lakewood CARES offered none of this transparency until forced to do so due to growing interest and questions regarding their involvement in our schools. I will remind Mr. Arbeeny that any secret group opens the door to questions about its purpose when it interferes in public affairs.
The citizens of the Clover Park School District want to know more about this group of people who are intent on discrediting our entire school district. Lakewood CARES has a direct relationship with school board directors David Anderson and Paul Wagemann. Why is it strange that citizens seek more influence from a political nonprofit with two school board members who echo the exact same claims made by CARES members?
I attended our school board meetings for over a year. I listen, I observe, I question, I research and I speak. Through legal public records requests, I have read numerous communications between CARES members. People associated with CARES inside and outside of 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 the country.
In this first letter, I will address some of Mr. Arbeeny’s claims and add additional context to those claims.
CLAIM: “CARES supported CPSD school board candidates David Anderson and Jeff Brown by EDUCATING the public about critical CPSD issues.”
Mr. Arbeeny is right. Lakewood CARES gave full support to David Anderson and Jeff Brown during the school board campaign. CARES met weekly with the Anderson and Brown campaigns to give them everything they needed and to strategize for their campaigns. However, why didn’t Mr. Arbeeny inform readers that David Anderson is registered as an executive of CARES? Jeff Brown receives emails regarding CARES activities. Is he a member? Why is membership in this group so secret?
FACT: School Principal David Anderson, John Arbeeny, and James Cooper signed up as “Governors”/Leaders of this 501c4 nonprofit political organization in May 2021. Although CARES has been around for years, these three men have suddenly become more active in 2021. As David Anderson campaigned for a “non-partisan” school board position, he shared the leadership of what appears, by all accounts, to be a far-right political group. One of Anderson’s campaign promises was to “take politics out of education.” Did he keep this promise to the citizens during his campaign and after being elected? Citizens asked David Anderson to explain his role in Lakewood CARES and he ignored those requests. Why? Is this the transparency he promised our fellow citizens?
CLAIM: “CARES has become most active again in 2020/2021 in response to the Clover Park School District’s lack of RESPONSIBILITY and ACCOUNTABILITY for our children’s education.”
This statement is partially true. CARES has become more active in 2020/2021. However, Arbeeny’s allegation of “lack of ‘responsibility’ and ‘accountability’ when it comes to raising our children” is opinion, not fact.
OBSERVATION: CARES has jumped on the anti-CRT bandwagon led by Christopher Rufo, Tucker Carlson, Steve Bannon and other hyper-partisan extremists. In 2021, Lakewood CARES embraced the plot that any public school equity policy was a sinister attempt to indoctrinate students. In 2021, FOX News ran 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 those 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 written by three CARES members: John Arbeeny, Pad Finnigan and Jeff Brown. Below is a sample of these letters and a quote from them. Note the dates, tone, language and demands of 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 his (Alyssa Pearson) support for race-based critical race theory and its trinity of equity, inclusion and diversity help transform academic performance?
July 15, 2021: “The Cat is Out of the Bag” by John Arbeeny: Published in the Suburban Times: “These pompous CRT sycophants who pose 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: “The CRT is inherently racist and if implemented in our schools will ‘pit’ one race against itself and all 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, these stakeholders do not represent parents and students in the school district of Clover Park. They represent the “intellectual elite” promised by WEB Du Bois a century ago and the many academic supporters of the CRT since the 1970s to lead “people of color” into the future whether we like it or not; whether we vote for it or not;…”
September 6, 2021: “Lakewood People Who Care About Schools, USA Future PART I”: By Pad Finnigan: Posted in Suburban Times: “Well, briefly, the school district wants to implement a racist policy that will pit white students against all others and calling white students oppressors and others oppressed.
September 7, 2021: “Lakewood People Who Care About Schools, USA Future PART II”: By Pad Finnigan: Posted in Suburban Times: “So the CRT, disguised as equity politics, must be stopped in the Clover Park School District because that he 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.
September 8, 2021: “Lakewood People Who Care About Schools, USA Future PART III”: By Pad Finnigan: Posted in Suburban Times: “We know that critical race theory, also referred to as equity politics, comes from academics Marxists pursuing a socialist government. Their theory substituted racial divisions for class warfare as a step toward fueling a socialist revolution.
OBSERVATION: Those associated with Lakewood CARES continue to claim that our three non-partisan board members and our superintendent are promoting hate and racism because of the equity policy that has been 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 experience and common sense to the table.”
This claim is difficult to verify. Does Arbeeny claim Lakewood CARES is qualified to lead a school district? Wealth of collective experience and common sense are not equivalent to competence in a given field 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 handle firefighters and what trucks and hoses to use? What about our lakewood police? It would be absurd.
COMMENT: Community members have every right to be involved in our schools. However, there are external forces pushing to destroy trust in public school education by stoking culture wars. The claims of “indoctrination” by the CARES CRT were the same as those made by extreme conservative groups nationally. Are we supposed to believe that the two CARE members on our school board are not engaged with sources and organizations outside of our community for the purpose of policing our schools?
CLAIM: “CARES was founded in 1999 as a nonpartisan 501c4 organization…”
FACT: That’s what they claimed. Where is the proof that they are non-partisan?
OBSERVATION: CARES may say they are non-partisan, but their association with the Republican Party appears to be quite strong. Director Anderson has made no secret of the training and support he and Jeff Brown received from the Pierce County Republican Party during their campaigns. Many names on their campaign donor lists are directly linked to CARES and those in the Republican Party. On April 29, 2022, David Anderson hosted a private screening of a controversial far-right documentary attacking teachers’ unions, promoted by the Pierce County Republican Party on his website. According to public records, Lakewood CARES meets at the Pierce County Republican Party address located in Lakewood. It is difficult to claim that you are a non-partisan organization when you have the support of a political party. If this information is incorrect, I welcome the correction.
Lakewood CARES expects transparency from others, but they have chosen to keep citizens in the dark about their involvement in our school district. With two CARES members on our board, the public deserves to know more. A follow-up letter will focus on the most irresponsible claim made by those associated with Lakewood CARES.