School Board Campaign Leaves Mom Afraid for Her Daughter

Family ultimately gave up on Minnesota town
By Liz MacGahan,  Newser Staff
Posted Nov 29, 2021 3:05 PM CST
School Board Candidate's Kid Targeted During Her Campaign
File photo of the Waits family. Chris, Abby, 7, Kit, 5, and Kelsey Waits, from left to right, laugh while hats are counted in an attempt to beat a Guinness World Record for the largest gathering of people wearing conical party hats during Mall of America's 25th birthday celebration in 2017.   (Courtney Pedroza /Star Tribune via AP)

A family moved to a small city in Minnesota thinking they’d found their dream come true. Chris Waits was leaving the Navy and traveled to Hastings for a job interview and, he said, his wife, Kelsey, fell in love with it. "Kelsey said, 'Well, I hope the interview went well because we're moving here,” Chris told CNN. The city of 22,000 is a suburb of Minneapolis, but has its own character—a cute downtown and park surrounded by farmland. They designed their dream house and settled in—all except the older of their two children. Abby had a bumpy landing and Kelsey decided to homeschool her. Interested in what the area’s public school system could do to help other homeschooled kids, Kelsey decided to get involved, and eventually ran for the school board.

Kelsey won a seat on the board by a 104-vote margin and threw herself into the work, rising to chair of the board, and going back to school to learn more about public policy. Before the pandemic, her main goal was a handbook to make school board business more transparent to new members, but controversy around whether kids should wear masks at school soon superseded that work. "I probably got about the same number of emails from parents saying, 'My child is not going to school if masks are required' as "My child is not going to school if masks aren't required,'" she said. Kelsey points to that controversy as the moment when things got ugly. A spirited debate around mask mandates is politics, but some people in the town targeted one of her kids.

The younger Waits daughter, Kit, 8, attended school and made friends just fine. But Kit, assigned male at birth, had found her identity as a girl at a young age. She wore dresses and played with a beloved American Girl doll and thrived. But Kelsey’s opponents in her run for reelection fractured that peace, and she was deeply hurt and afraid for Kit’s safety when she heard that another parent had written in a Facebook post, "She should be locked up for child abuse. Her younger 'daughter' is actually a boy." Kelsey knew that trans kids are at greater risk of suicide. Studies like this one reported by Reuters show about 30 percent of trans girls have attempted suicide at least once. Kelsey lost the election, and her husband, Chris, admitted it was a relief. But instead of ending the difficulties the family faced, things got worse. Chris said other parents witnessed bullying in kids, too. They gave up their dream house and moved to another town in hopes of finding peace again—and privacy. (More transgender stories.)

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