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Schools are caught in the cross hairs of America’s culture wars.

Schools are caught in the cross hairs of America’s culture wars.

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The summer is supposed to be the quietest part of the school year. But not this time.

As summer fades into fall, many of the major issues dividing the country — masks, transgender rights, critical race theory — have dropped like an anvil on U.S. schools.

Schools were already facing a crisis of historic proportions. They must reopen just as a highly contagious Delta variant of the coronavirus is tearing through communities.

And for many of the country’s 56 million schoolchildren, it has been a year of lost learning and widening inequities.

But at this critical moment, many school officials find themselves engulfed in highly partisan battles. The tense environment comes amid a growing movement to recall school board officials, over everything from teachings on race to school closures. Nationwide, there have been at least 58 recall efforts targeting more than 140 officials so far this year, more than the previous two years combined, according to Ballotpedia.

As a superintendent in Albany, Ore., Melissa Goff first noticed pushback when her district closed classrooms during the pandemic, and a slate of candidates ran for school board largely on a platform to open schools.

But by the time students returned this spring, a new flash point had emerged: Should police officers welcome students back to campus? Though it was a local tradition, some parents said that their children, sensitive after a year of Black Lives Matter protests, felt afraid.

Then, in May, Ms. Goff said, she came under fire for a plan to hold vaccine clinics at local high schools. Though she said the clinics were intended to reach families without much access to health care, Ms. Goff said that some people had seen the effort as “making kids get vaccines.”

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