Ed. note – Gov. Ron DeSantis' office announced on Wednesday, Sept. 6, 2023, that he had appointed Descovich to the Florida Commission on Ethics. As a service to readers, we are republishing this previous interview, which first appeared on our website last June 9.
When she helped form Moms for Liberty in Florida last year, Tina Descovich didn’t know the cultural juggernaut it would become.
The co-founder of the nonprofit conservative values group, whose aim is to “educate and empower parents to defend their parental rights at all levels of government,” describes herself simply as a “mom, wife and former school board member who grew up here in the great state of Florida.”
But, as the USA TODAY Network-Florida has pointed out, “few political groups have grown so large, so quickly.” From its beginnings, “M4L” – as it’s called – has grown to over 200 chapters in 37 states, Descovich says.
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It’s even encouraging those who share their goals to run for local school boards. Descovich herself served on the Brevard County School Board in 2016-20, co-founder Tiffany Justice is a former Indian River County School Board member and Bridget Ziegler, who has moved on from the group, still sits on the board in Sarasota County.
The organization’s critics say it uses “parents as pawns to advance a far-right agenda,” and some of its members have been called out for haranguing school board members at meetings over mask and vaccine requirements, for example.
Its supporters commend it for “uncovering the radical sexual and racial agenda being pushed in public schools,” mentioning the fight against the teaching of critical race theory as an example. The group will hold a national summit in Tampa next month, to include Florida First Lady Casey DeSantis as a speaker.
City & State spoke with Descovich by phone in early May. Questions and answers that follow have been edited for clarity and brevity.
Q: In your view, what sparked the need for the organization?
Descovich: Tiffany and I kept noticing that we were taking the same stands on our school boards and kind of losing some of these issues in votes on our school boards. And so we started reaching out to one another and talking about the concerns that we had about parents being shut down and shut out of the conversations of the decisions that were being made about the children in public schools. When I lost my reelection in August of 2020, I started doing some reflecting on what I wanted to do and continued to talk to Tiffany. We came up with an idea to start an organization, originally just here in Florida, to help empower parents to navigate through school districts.
What we saw when we were sitting on the board, especially as COVID was unfolding, was moms getting upset about some of the decisions that were being made. They would come speak at the school board meeting and they really didn't know who to address concerns to, how to solve the problems. … We knew that there were skills and abilities that Tiffany and I had doing the job that could really help some of these parents to be more effective in their advocacy for their children.
Q: Is it fair to say that the organization might not exist but for the pandemic and how public school districts reacted to it?
Descovich: I would say I have been a strong advocate for parental rights even before I was on the school board and had fought for a parental bill of rights before COVID was even on anybody's radar. We saw behind the education curtain the power unions have in school districts. And I think what happened with COVID is all of America saw the power that unions have in school districts by keeping some school districts closed for over a year when students clearly should have been in school. And so there's a lot of things that we had access to and saw how parents were losing this battle. And didn't even know there was a battle. So what happened with COVID is it kind of opened that window for everyone to see, and the organization was able to blossom and bloom and grow in the fashion that it has.
Q: What issues motivate your members now?
Descovich: I think one of the concerns that we see with our members is curriculum transparency. Not necessarily textbooks that go through a textbook adoption process, but the support items that teachers are bringing in to teach that haven't been screened or approved by the district or by parents. … A teacher has autonomy to teach as long as they're teaching to the standards. They can create their lessons and they should be able to create their lessons and connect with their students.
But I can think of one (example) several years ago, when I was on the board and my son was in high school. He had a test in his marine biology class. And there was a long answer question all about President Trump and how he and his daughter Ivanka had supposedly purchased all of the land along the water here in Brevard County, and it insinuated all these horrible things that they were going to do to the land. And so, you know, it was just ideologically based. There was no reason – no reason – to name anybody in that it was a marine biology class. They were trying to understand the impact of land development on the Indian River Lagoon, which is a great topic to study, but why would you have to throw in all these political characters and demonize them and things that had never happened?
Q: I understand your youngest son starts high school in the fall. Is he going to attend a public school in Brevard?
Descovich: Excellent question. So all five of my children went to Brevard public schools. I went to public schools. … I have a deep love for Brevard public schools, really a deep love. The day after our school board voted to mandate COVID restrictions, I pulled my youngest child out of Brevard public schools, and he has been in a private school the last two years, been living a normal life in that private school. But it ends in eighth grade, so he cannot continue on there next year, so we are looking at the school he's zoned for … but we also filled out an application at the local Catholic high school. So we haven't quite made a decision yet.
Q: What is your biggest hope for Moms for Liberty?
Descovich: I'd like to see a Moms for Liberty chapter in every county in the country. And with that, we want to have a Moms for Liberty member at every school board meeting from now to the end of time, kind of as the watchdog of school districts. … We want chapters to figure out what problems they want to solve and we’ll help them figure out how to solve them … but the truth is, our organization is driven from the bottom up.
We support a parent's right to choose any educational opportunity for their child. That being said, we do feel like conservatives have neglected public education for decades, and that's why we're in the situation we're in. So our mission is to save America by empowering parents to stand up for their parental rights. And right now that focus is in the public school system.
NEXT STORY: Five Questions with state Rep. Angie Nixon