Darcy Schoening, co-chair of the El Paso County Moms for Liberty chapter, has announced that she is leaving the organization.
Moms for Liberty was started in 2021 by Tina Descovich, Tiffany Justice and Bridget Ziegler in Brevard County, Fla. Initially focused on mask mandates and other COVID-19 restrictions in schools, the organization now advocates against school curricula that mention LGBTQ rights, race and ethnicity, critical race theory, and discrimination. Multiple chapters, including six affiliates in Colorado counties, have also campaigned to remove books that address gender and sexuality from school libraries. The group has received critical media attention for its connection to groups like the Proud Boys and Gays Against Groomers and for harassment campaigns against teachers, school board members, staff, and progressive education activists.
In El Paso County, Schoening’s chapter was the focus of reporting from CNN as the group built its reputation with protests and a presence during board meeting public comment. The group has also been involved in pushing districts to opt-out of Colorado’s mental health bill and potential COVID restrictions.
In a statement released Wednesday, Schoening, who has served as co-chair for nearly a year and a half, said, “I will no longer be operating under a brand. I’m grateful to the people I’ve met in this journey, and the experiences I’ve had. In the coming months, you’ll see an announcement from me that will forever change the Colorado education landscape, and I can barely keep that to myself. In the meantime, I’ll be carrying out the important work of raising funds for the State GOP and continuing the work of saving our kids from the left.”
Colorado Times Recorder spoke with Schoening about her departure from the group.
CTR: Looking back at your tenure at Moms for Liberty, is there anything that you would say is a lasting legacy or anything you’ve done with Moms for Liberty that you’re particularly proud of or see as like a crowning achievement?
Schoening: I think the two most important things would be the House Bill 1003 opt out and then the whole COVID resolution, which is in the process and several school districts right now.
CTR: You did mention in your statement that the media kind of got it wrong, crediting Moms for Liberty for these particular opt outs. From our perspective, we saw the social media post and saw it pop up in the school district. Can you clarify that?
Schoening: Those were just totally my policies. Moms for Liberty doesn’t have any COVID policy resolutions or any type of policy goals around HB1003. In fact, they really don’t have much policy support or guidance at all. So that was me, and I feel like it would just be more effective for me to be able to reach these school districts as myself rather than as a convoluted group.
CTR: Moms for Liberty has emerged at the forefront of these grassroots, parents’ rights groups. Here in El Paso County, we’ve got Advocates for D20 Kids and D11 Achievement Alliance. There’s a lot of different groups working on this model. Do you see the limitations of this Moms for Liberty model, or do you feel like it has run its course?
Schoening: It’s going to run its course because it’s built on this national name coming out of Florida, with the people at the top being the top decision-makers. Every chapter is really out on its own. From the second that you go to open your bank account to filing as a 501(c)4, to having your first meeting, to getting speakers to writing policies, to reviewing curriculum. It is right now relying on the goodwill of 150,000 people to continue doing this work, but there’s no real structure or background. It’s just me.
CTR: The El Paso County chapter is kind of the national sort of flagship chapter. You got a lot of media attention from CNN, and on top of that, looking at the Moms For Liberty website of the elected officials and candidates who signed the pledge — El Paso County has a lot of elected officials from all levels of government signing this pledge. What do you attribute to this chapter’s success?
Schoening: I don’t want to sound selfish, but I do feel like I leveraged a lot of my personal relationships to make those things happen. And all that is fine and good, but I just don’t think that I can continue to do that.
CTR: The media has been very critical of Moms for Liberty. The Southern Poverty Law Center labeling them an extremist group, and some of these different exposés and ties that different chapters might have with groups like the Proud Boys or Gays Against Groomers in a lot of this culture war stuff. To what extent do you think that’s helpful in the broader conservative school choice, parents rights’ movement, and to what extent did that impact your decision to step down?
Schoening: That really didn’t have an impact. I’ve never met — that I know of — I have never met a Proud Boy, and I have never encountered these groups. I was actually very firm that our chapter would never work with Gays Against Groomers. I find them to be inflammatory and sketchy at best. I was never really deterred by the negative media attention, but I don’t think that there’s a lot of people that are willing to endure that negative media attention. For me personally, I just I just don’t see the benefit of it.
CTR: One of the biggest criticisms of Moms for Liberty from a lot of people is that it appears to be pushing a very anti-LGBTQ, or at least certainly this kind of like anti-transgender rhetoric and policies. Reporting has kind of focused on the potential harm that these movements are causing to LGBTQ students and school districts. A lot of people feel like it’s pushing back some of the progress that’s been made in regards to LGBTQ. Here locally in D20, the GSA clubs have been relegated to this non-curricular position. Do you have a response to those criticisms?
Schoening: Some of the people that I care about most in the world identify as LGBTQ. I think until a couple of years ago, we were all under this understanding that people we all have the same rights. I, myself, as a restaurant owner three years ago, was very, very adamant of baking cakes and making sure that everybody felt welcome all of the time. When things started to change, and it wasn’t to an anti-LGBTQ stance, it was to my feelings, which I believe a lot of people feel the same way with, ‘Hey guys, you know, you already have rights.’ And so the pushing of this into the schools — and I’ll give you an example. They like to call me a ‘book banner.’ I don’t want to ban any books. I don’t go to Penguin and say, ‘Stop making this book,’ but I don’t necessarily believe that it is in any child’s interest to have some of these materials in front of them at a time when they’re really questioning, I think, at least some of the very, very obscene materials. I feel like the left is using a historically disenfranchised population and they’re using them in a way that is not beneficial to them. Like I said, 3 to 5 years ago, I don’t think people sensed this anti-trans feeling. It’s this heavy push into the schools and the companies and all the things where people are saying, ‘But we already appreciated you guys, we’re trying to give you equal rights to begin with. We’re just maybe not wanting as much of it in our schools at such a young age.’
CTR: What do you see as the future of the parents’ rights, school choice, conservative education movement?
Schoening: I do think that people’s attitudes seem to be really shifting. At first, it seemed like in Colorado, the attitude was, ‘Well, schools know best. Government knows best, and everybody wants equal rights for everybody.’ Everybody wants everybody to be treated with respect in this battle, but I do think parents are becoming increasingly fed up. You can see that in the polls. You can see that in social media polls. They just want to be able to trust that their kids go to school and receive a quality education. I think what we’re going to see is more and more parents becoming involved just at the granular level, just looking at their kid’s curriculum, really attending a school board meeting, which is crazy. Just individual involvement. That’s really what we need. People like me can’t carry the weight of this and the attacks and the media attention on my own. Some of these parents who want us out fighting for their children and for their parental rights, they need to get engaged as well.
CTR: You were on the Monument Town Council, and then got involved with Moms for Liberty, and you plan to continue in the education field. What is it about education and education policy that drew you in that direction?
Schoening: I wasn’t originally drawn in that direction. I just got handed this chapter a year and a half ago. A girl named Sarah started it and she said, ‘I don’t know what to do with this. You’ve got all kinds of relationships and media around you. Do you want to take it over?’ And I said, sure. Then I started looking at what was going on. I decided that I could fight for my Second Amendment rights and I could fight for whatever I want all day long, but the way that education and public education is being weaponized to raise kids, to really want more government authority, bigger government, thinking of their parents as enemies and the state as their fathers — that really drew me in. I said to myself, ‘Well, when this generation that’s in high school right now starts getting elected into office all the work that we’re doing right now is going to matter.’ We’ve got to get some control of union influence in the schools. My kids are seven and eight and they’re in a private school, but it doesn’t really matter where. Kids should be able to go to school and be educated and come home.
CTR: From my perspective, I’ve seen a lot of splintering in the conservative education movement. Here in El Paso County you’ve got Moms for Liberty, Advocates for D20, D11 Achievement Alliance, and now Engage the Rockies. Also Americans for Prosperity, different nonprofits. Rep. Rose Pugliese (R-El Paso County) and Don Wilson (R-Monument) have been doing a bunch of town halls around education as well in the last couple of months. Do you see Moms for Liberty waning in influence? What do you make of all these new groups that are kind of popping up?
Schoening: A lot of these groups, and I could use Advocates for D20 Kids as an example, and D11 Achievement Alliance, they’re hyper-focused on that particular school board, that curriculum. That’s typically how the local education activists work. When I met the rest of the Moms for Liberty that ended up joining me on the board, that’s where they were laser-focused, and I moved that focus away to more of a statewide, these are the bills that are being passed, this is what we need to do for the school districts [focus]. I would guess that Moms for Liberty El Paso County would kind of fade into a more local entity now because they don’t have that statewide kind of policymaking entity that I bring to the table, not to talk myself up. That was just my focus. I think that all these little local groups are kind of fighting for the same thing, and then because of the fractured Republican party, they don’t all arrive on the same page.
CTR: You talk about the fractured Republican Party. Colorado is a state where Democrats seem to be gaining more and more ground. In a lot of places school boards are one of those places where conservatives seem to have an edge and are being successful. How does that kind of state-level, national-level, Republican, Democrat politics play into what’s happening in school boards? And how do you see that playing out in the future?
Schoening: Colorado is so different from the rest of the country. We see national polls. We know what the attitudes are nationwide, but in Colorado, we’re kind of under a purple-to-blue squeeze right now. What I like to focus on, and this is one of the things that I’m trying to do over at the state party is say, ‘We’re not going to repair this. We’re not going to get more independents on our side by going out into the world and running our mouths about abortion, or even guns for the most part, left and right.’ We have to start maintaining control of those school boards, flipping those school boards, of those city council seats, county commissioners seats, and implementing those commonsense, limited government policies in these communities. That’s going to be the only way that Colorado springs back somewhat purple-to-red is by implementing common sense local policies on the school boards and the local boards and commissions.
CTR: Is there anything you would want to say about where you’re going from here, what that timeline looks like?
Schoening: In the coming months, I’ll be announcing more, but there is a small group of us that have made major headway in a project that should be unveiled by this spring of 2024 that will change the education landscape in Colorado.