Delivery of pocket Constitutions to Brevard schools by Moms for Liberty draws questions

It was a move that, on its own, seemed benign.

Ahead of schools around the nation recognizing Constitution Week — a time to learn about and commemorate the adoption of the document — Brevard's Moms for Liberty chapter delivered pocket Constitutions to local middle schools.

But the donation of approximately 7,200 pocket Constitutions — which included an “oath of allegiance” for students to sign and a QR code directing them to a nonprofit's website — to all Brevard Public Schools middle schools and some private schools drew questions from some regarding what is and isn’t allowed within schools. Others felt the action was hypocritical of Moms for Liberty, which has lobbied for restrictions on what’s allowed in schools and transparency for parents relating to what their kids are doing or reading.

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At a Sept. 19 school board meeting, board member Megan Wright — who was endorsed by Moms for Liberty in 2022 — thanked the group for the donation.

"There (were) fearless mamas out there that were working hard, and making sure that those were getting put into our kids' hands so that they can have that valuable document and understand what our country was founded on and what our rights are as citizens," she said.

Why did Moms for Liberty donate Constitutions?

Moms for Liberty — a conservative parents group formed by Brevard’s Tina Descovich and Indian River County’s Tiffany Justice in 2021, advocating for parental involvement in schools — delivered a total of 300,000 Constitutions around the country for Constitution Week, which spans Sept. 17 through Sept. 23, with Constitution Day celebrated on Sept. 17, according to a Facebook post on the organization’s page.

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Though Moms for Liberty sells their own pocket Constitutions, they did not use these for the week. Instead, they sent out pocket Constitutions donated by the 917 Society, a nonprofit grassroots organization "dedicated to preserving our Constitution and fostering a love for our country among our youth," according to their website.

A pocket Constitution from the 917 Society that was delivered to a Brevard middle school.
A pocket Constitution from the 917 Society that was delivered to a Brevard middle school.

Though the organization says it does not align itself with, endorse or support specific political candidates, organizations, parties or platforms, the 917 Society's founder, Joni Bryan, appeared on Moms for Liberty's podcast Sept. 18.

In a Facebook post, Moms for Liberty described their relationship to the group as a partnership.

Heather Peterson, vice chair of Brevard’s Moms for Liberty chapter, said Brevard chose to partner with the 917 Society both this year and last year because she’d seen information from another chapter about the 917 Society sending out free pocket Constitutions.

“We are so thankful for the 917 Society and what their organization does to get our nation's Constitution into the hands of our children, and we do plan to continue this effort for the future as the 917 Society continues to partner with us in this effort,” she said in an emailed statement to FLORIDA TODAY.

A pocket Constitution from the 917 Society that was delivered to a Brevard middle school.
A pocket Constitution from the 917 Society that was delivered to a Brevard middle school.

She added that it was important to Moms for Liberty to participate in Constitution Week to set an example for others and make sure students learn about the United States’ history.

“It’s important that it's not only adults (who) understand and defend the principles of the Constitution, but it’s critical that the younger generation learn it to preserve the rights of all individuals,” Peterson said. “We want them to develop critical thinking skills, engage in discussions about democracy, governance, and recognize the significance of being informed, engaged citizens. Just as many of our Moms for Liberty members are doing all over Brevard.”

What's inside a 917 Society pocket Constitution?

While pocket Constitutions contain only the Constitution can be purchased online, the 917 Society version contains more than that. On the front and back cover, it includes information about the 917 Society, as well as a web address and QR code so students can download the group’s Constitution app. Inside, there is a quote from George Washington, and a place for a student and teacher to print their names and the date.

A pocket Constitution from the 917 Society that was delivered to a Brevard middle school.
A pocket Constitution from the 917 Society that was delivered to a Brevard middle school.

There is also an oath of allegiance, or an “example of (a) naturalization oath for citizenship.” The oath includes a space for the student to print their name and goes on to have them renounce foreign authorities and vow to defend the United States. The oath includes promises to “bear arms on behalf of the united States” and to perform “noncombatant services in the Armed Forces of the United States when required by law.”

Why are community members concerned?

It was the extra content in the pocket Constitutions that had mom Kelly Kervin raising concerns, as well as the fact that the pamphlets were delivered from an outside organization and not purchased by the school district.

“My whole issue is we have a vetting process for books now, we have teachers that can’t even have Dr. Seuss or Clifford the Dog,” she said, adding that she would feel differently if the 917 Society pamphlets were simply labeled “pocket Constitution” with no additional text. “It’s labeled as a political pamphlet with a QR code to donate to a Christian nationalist society. It just doesn’t make a lot of sense.”

New school board member Megan Wright at the December 13th meeting of the Brevard County School Board in Viera.
New school board member Megan Wright at the December 13th meeting of the Brevard County School Board in Viera.

With Brevard media specialists working to vet all of their books to make sure they comply with Florida statutes, and a new rule from the Board of Education requiring parents to sign a consent form if their child would like to participate in any out-of-class activity, Kervin said she doesn’t understand why these pamphlets were allowed to be distributed.

“I have to sign a permission slip for (my child) to see her teachers during lunch for extra help, but now you can put basically a fundraiser for an organization that I know nothing about … into the hands of my kid who’s then going to scan a QR code and go their website, which is not vetted by the district because if it was, I would have serious questions,” she said.

Russell Bruhn, a spokesperson for BPS, said that the Constitutions were reviewed by district staff prior to being delivered.

“They are primary source material, meaning these pocket books have not changed the language that is in the Constitution,” he said.

He did not mention the added content in the pamphlets.

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Peterson explained the process for getting the donation approved, saying she contacted school board member Katye Campbell to ask about the process to get distribution cleared by the district.

“We did everything that is required by law for distribution to our public school and were cleared to get the Constitutions to all Brevard Public middle schools for both 2022 and 2023 school year,” she said.

Campbell confirmed that Moms for Liberty reached out to her both this year and last year.

“I made sure everything was reviewed by staff and approved, just like any book donation groups might want to make,” she said.

She added that she looked at the material before passing it on, but approval doesn’t depend on her.

Still, questions remain about the decision for some community members.

Virginia Hamilton, a retired Brevard Public Schools teacher, criticized Moms for Liberty for delivering the pamphlets.

“Teachers have to adhere to certain content, certain benchmarks, standards — that’s not it,” she said. “They want it all their way.”

She added that she was frustrated with the district’s lack of response to concerned community members, saying she’d reached out to Superintendent Mark Rendell about the pocket Constitutions and received no reply.

“The schools are losing everything; it just feels like more and more teachers are frustrated,” Hamilton said. “If I were in a classroom and that was handed to me, it would go straight in the trash.”

Finch Walker is the education reporter at FLORIDA TODAY. Contact Walker at 321-290-4744 or Twitter: @_finchwalker.

This article originally appeared on Florida Today: What's in the pocket Constitutions Brevard middle-schoolers received?