Board member said event designed to reject rhetoric from 'outside political agitators'
Courtesy of Chandler USD
Recently sworn-in Chandler Unified School District Governing Board member Kurt Rohrs speaks near the end of a Feb. 22 meeting. Students and parents criticized Rohrs for attending a recent Turning Point USA club event at CUSD’s Perry High School and appearing in photographs with speakers referred to by parents as part of a hate group.
Controversy arose at the Feb. 22 Chandler Unified School District meeting over a recent after school event at Perry High School.
Multiple people who spoke during the public comment portion of the meeting mentioned Turning Point USA as an organization that has no place on a CUSD campus.
While district officials pointed out there is nothing that can be done legally to remove a student-initiated club from campus, parents implored the district and the board to disavow Turning Point USA.
Newly elected board member Kurt Rohrs acknowledged he attended a Feb. 21 Turning Point event on the Perry’s campus.
Brandy Reese, a parent, spoke, saying she found out last fall about the presence of the Turning Point USA club at Perry. While the club isn’t new to Perry, Reese said the recent event alarmed her.
“Turning Point was behind the hate-filled, anti-democracy sign campaign against Clint Smith,” Reese said.
Smith finished a distant third in an attempt to unseat now-four-term U.S. Congressman Andy Biggs, who’s listed on Turning Point’s website, tpusa.com, as a contributor.
Reese said Turning Point USA is intolerant and is intent on spreading messages of hate — especially ones targeting LGTBQIA youth.
“I propose this club has no place on our campuses, where it should be our goal to encourage the pursuit of truth, community, collaboration, equity and inclusion,” Reese said. “Unfortunately, I was told that because the club is student-led, it would therefore be allowed. I request CUSD policies be amended to clubs such as this.”
Turning Point has had a Perry High School club since at least the early fall of 2021. It has a stated purpose on both the PHS clubs webpage and on its permission slip to join.
“The purpose of TPUSA is to promote patriotism in students all over Perry High School and to educate them on the history of the United States, capitalism, and the ideas that influence the western world,” the statement reads. “We want to build responsible citizens who will conserve our founding ideas and protect the natural rights of life, liberty, and property.”
Turning Point USA and the Perry High School club couldn’t be reached to answer questions for this story.
Students also spoke at the Feb. 22 meeting, including Corinne Collins, a Perry student who identified as part of Support Equality in Arizona Schools. She read a statement from a gay male student who couldn’t attend the meeting, saying he doesn’t feel safe disclosing sexuality to simply any random classmate.
“The event presented very partisan and questionable information,” Collins read. “As students, this is unacceptable.”
Rohrs, speaking in his board member comments toward the end of the Feb. 22 meeting, said he attended a Turning Point “talk on racial unity” at Perry High the day prior, on Feb. 21, involving two black man and a young Asian woman.
Rohrs said the talk was focused on “reaching out to white students to try to make judgments based on some people’s character and behavior rather than skin color, and to reject the divisive rhetoric promoted by outside political agitators.”
Rohr’s description was met with murmurs and snickers from the small crowd still in attendance at that point.
“This actually appears to align with the socio-economic lessons we do in our classrooms,” Rohrs said.
Rohrs also responded to allegations voiced by most speakers who mentioned him and/or Turning Point during their Citizens’ Comments.
Board President Jason Olive wasn’t at the Feb. 22 meeting. Vice President and former longtime board president Barb Mozden chaired the meeting, interrupting Rohrs several times to address procedure.
Katie Nash, a parent who also spoke, said she’s “outraged and disturbed” by Rohr’s actions and the message it sends to the community. She said Rohr’s attendance at the Feb. 21 event where well-known Turning Point contributor “MAGA Hulk” Stephen Davis and others spoke gives the impression the board and district endorse Davis’ statements.
“By boasting attendance on a social media page, it sends the message that CUSD and the board support the actions of this individual,” Nash said. “As we look to our Portrait of a Learner, we see attributes like empathy, critical thinking, collaboration and global citizen. I fail to see where violence, hate, exclusivity and uniformity fit in.”
Nash said what is most concerning is that CUSD is targeted on a Turning Point “watchlist.” The Turning Point website features a “school board watchlist” that has districts around the country. Under the Arizona tab, most of the Valley’s largest districts are on its list, with 33 districts from around the state included.
Rohrs is seen in a group photo from the event, posted to the @turningpointperry Instagram page, showing him smiling, next to Davis.
Rohrs said wearing a badge and publicly identifying himself as a board member at campus events is a security requirement. He said the Facebook page “Kurt Rohrs Governing Board Member” is a parody account and the statements attributed to him there are not his.
The question “What is CRT?” was used atop a flier promoting Davis’ Feb. 21 appearance. CUSD officials have said repeatedly that critical race theory is a law-school concept not taught in most K-12 schools, including Chandler.
We’d like to invite our readers to submit their civil comments, pro or con, on this issue. Email AZOpinions@iniusa.org.
Jason W. Brooks is an associate editor for the Daily independent.
He covers the Buckeye area and the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors. Brooks is a well-traveled journalist who has documented life in small American communities in nearly all its time zones. Born in Washington, D.C., and raised there and in suburban Los Angeles, he has covered community news in California, New Mexico, Arkansas, Iowa, and Nebraska.