Oregon Moms Union to hold conference in Salem about parent choice and schools

About 250 parents and others are expected for a conference this weekend in Salem focused on a key issue locally and across the nation: education. 

The Parents Matter Summit is scheduled for Friday evening and Saturday at the Salem Convention Center and is being put on by the Oregon Moms Union – a political action committee created in 2021 calling for more parent involvement in education and opposing Covid-related mandates. 

Organizers say the event is intended to give parents and others information on how they can be involved in decisions about their children’s education and their local school system.

“We’re looking to help educate parents on just how the education system works and kind of help them learn how to navigate it,” said MacKensey Pulliam, Moms Union president and co-founder. “I think it can be a challenge and sometimes really intimidating for parents to figure out how things work, so it’s really just giving them the tools to be able to advocate for their kids and their kids’ needs.”

The conference, which people can register to attend, is in line with a larger push happening nationally for more involvement in public schools. School systems are seeing more challenges to curriculum and literature, promotion of charter schools, and more organization around school board elections and meetings. 

Oregon Moms Union gained attention last year after joining others in suing Gov. Kate Brown over her Covid restrictions.

The lawsuit sought a restraining order against Brown, arguing that the school closures due to Covid had “no rational basis” and her executive orders limiting school operations violated the rights of parents to control their children’s education. 

A state judge ruled there were not enough facts to support a restraining order and the case was dropped in July 2021, according to court dockets. 

Since then the Oregon Moms Union created a large network across the state and hosted workshops for parents, though this will be the first event of this size with about 250 people registered as of Tuesday. Pulliam said they hope to make it an annual event. 

The program includes national speakers Rebecca Friedrichs, founder of For Kids and Country who took the California State Teachers Union to the U.S. Supreme Court, Carol Swain, who served on the Tennessee Advisory Committee to the U.S. Civil Rights Commission and is author of 11 books including “Black Eye for America: How Critical Race Theory is Burning Down the House”, and Corey DeAngelis, the national director of research at the American Federation for Children, which advocates for families to be able to use state funds to send children to schools of their choice. 

Other speakers will address homeschooling, charter schools, school choice, and education policy. 

“I think the themes are really parents rights and school choice, and just empowering parents again, to be able to advocate for their kids,” Pulliam said. “We’ve got our big national speakers that are doing a panel about what parents can do to help their kids get the best education, and then we’ll have breakout sessions on everything from school choice, to the role of parents, to how to be an ambassador for your special needs child.”

Pulliam is married to Stan Pulliam, a Republican candidate for governor earlier this year. 

Sponsors of the event include the Freedom Foundation, a conservative think tank that has advocated for allowing government employees to opt out of paying union dues, and Parents Defending Education, a national nonprofit organization “working to reclaim our schools from activists promoting harmful agendas,” according to its website.

Pulliam said the Oregon Moms Union is still concerned about the prevailing statewide mandate for school employees to be vaccinated or work under an exemption. 

“We actually just submitted a petition to have the Oregon Health Authority take another look at that yesterday, since that no longer aligns with CDC guidance,” she said. “So just kind of those kinds of things that are hindering parents from being engaged with their child’s school, and being able to get to school board meetings, being able to get into the classroom.”

Looking forward, Pulliam said the focus is on these issues and others like school choice and local elections, including the local school board races to come in May 2023.

Contact reporter Jordyn Brown at [email protected].

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Jordyn Brown is an Oregon journalist who formerly worked for the Eugene Register-Guard.