There has to be a floor — some root level of sanity — required of a political candidate who wants to be responsible for our children’s education. They can’t, for example, dispute the reality of the coronavirus pandemic or the 9/11 terrorist attacks, both of which took thousands of American lives. They can’t hang out with QAnon conspiracists, a demented bunch who believe a gang of Washington-based cannibals who sexually abuse children worked to undermine President Trump. If they want to sit on a school board, they must accept certain basic historical facts. Or they can be Dawn Peters, a candidate for the District 3 at-large seat on the Pinellas County School Board.
Screenshots taken from Peters’ social media accounts show her appearing to take the QAnon oath, referring to the 2020 presidential election as “Trump 2Q2Q” and retweeting a post about the “three major hoaxes of the modern world” — coronavirus, the 9/11 attacks and America’s six moon landings (some conspiracies, apparently, never get old). Asked if she really believed these were all hoaxes, Peters said, “I have no idea.’’ She added: “Maybe people need to think and think for themselves.”
A fine idea. And they should start by thinking about whether someone with these nutty ideas has any business sitting on a school board.
Her opponent for the countywide seat, Keesha Benson, is well qualified for the job. She is a university professor and a product of Pinellas County schools, with three children currently in the district. That gives her a good understanding of the issues most important to parents. She has also worked as the chief learning and evaluation officer for Foundation for a Healthy St. Pete and director of Thrive by Five, an early learning program in Pinellas.
Peters, in contrast, seems to think it’s OK to dismiss the 9/11 attacks like she would a pesky fly, instead of accepting what happened as one of the country’s seminal moments, a day that changed the way Americans live. She seems to think the 343 firefighters who died on that terrible day didn’t exist. Maybe she should visit New York City Fire Department Squad Company 1, which lost 12 members that day. Maybe she should read about 25-year-old firefighter Michael Kiefer and four other members of Ladder 132 last seen in the South Tower of the World Trade Center. She should research Chaplain Mychal Judge or Chief of the Department Peter James Ganci Jr., both killed doing their jobs. Still think 9/11 was a hoax? Read Tom Junod’s “The Falling Man” in the Esquire archives, fly to New York City and stand for a moment at the somber memorial, or drive the Lincoln Highway to the grassy field in Pennsylvania where hijacked United Airlines Flight 93 plunged into the earth. But stop spewing this idiocy about hoaxes. The 9/11 attacks were real. So were coronavirus and the moon landings.
After Tampa Bay Times staff writer Jeff Solochek wrote an article disclosing Peters’ 2-year old screenshots involving QAnon and the three “hoaxes,” the candidate began edging away from her conspiracy precipice. She now says she doesn’t doubt the reality of the 9/11 attacks and denies she is a QAnon adherent, despite photos that seem to indicate otherwise. (We still have no word whether she has changed her mind on the moon landings.)
“I am not a conspiracy theorist, she said. ”I am a mother, an active volunteer and just want to get back to discussing the issues with our school system.”
The “I said it but I didn’t mean it” defense rings hollow. The backtracking reeks of political convenience. Peters acknowledges that voters have every right to consider endorsements, statements and candidates’ social media posts. We couldn’t agree more. Peters has revealed who she is — someone unfit to lead our schools.
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Editorials are the institutional voice of the Tampa Bay Times. The members of the Editorial Board are Editor of Editorials Graham Brink, Sherri Day, Sebastian Dortch, John Hill, Jim Verhulst and Chairman and CEO Conan Gallaty. Follow @TBTimes_Opinion on Twitter for more opinion news.