Mikah Dyer isn’t a typical school board candidate.
He’s not a parent. He’s not an educator.
He’s a student.
Dyer, a senior in the Peoria Unified School District, is running for a seat on his district’s school board in 2024 to provide a student perspective to an entity that typically favors parent perspectives.
“I understand the challenges and opportunities that students are encountering on a daily basis,” Dyer told The Copper Courier. “And I thought that it was so crucial that we have a student voice and student representation on the board.”
The Gen Z candidate could become the fifth member of his generation to hold a school board seat in the Valley, as young people push back against far-right groups like Moms for Liberty, who have politicized school boards and endangered the safety of elected officials.
Parents vs. Students
Currently, the Peoria Unified governing board is made up of three parents and one educator. Dyer said that while he believes parent perspectives are important to school boards, the prioritization of parent involvement has led to a rise in conflict due to groups like Moms for Liberty. The parent-centered organization is designated by the Southern Poverty Law Center as a far-right extremist group.
“[Moms for Liberty] hold the opinion that parents should be the number one decision maker for their education. That’s super cool, awesome,” Dyer said. “But I think at the end of the day, when we’re looking at our public schools, we have to think on how to best serve the majority of students. And I think a student knows how to do that best.”
Moms for Liberty in Peoria
Dyer’s district has recently been subjected to the conflict and rhetoric brought by Moms for Liberty. Just this year, the board has dealt with protests over bathroom policies, harassment of a nonbinary teacher, and a lawsuit from a board member who was asked to stop reciting Bible verses during meetings because, in her capacity as an elected official, it violated the First Amendment of the Constitution.
Dyer said these issues are often not even on the radar of students, who are usually focused on the problems that impact their day-to-day experiences at school.
“All of this rhetoric that’s happening in Peoria, it’s because of the adults, the students are not seeing the same problems at all,” Dyer said. “We’re not worried about what’s happening in the restrooms.”
Gen Z Response
But as younger candidates for school boards crop up, so too could more hardline conservatives. Moms for Liberty have received a nod of approval from the state’s top education official, as Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne told Moms for Liberty supporters at an event in September that he is committed to electing more conservatives to school boards in Arizona.
Markus Ceniceros, who became the youngest elected official in the state when he won a seat on the Littleton Elementary School District Governing Board at 18, said he and other members of Gen Z won’t take this lying down.
“If Superintendent Tom Horne wants to run candidates of Moms For Liberty in every school district in Arizona, just know that that’s not going to be taken lightly by Gen Z,” Ceniceros said. “If we have candidates who look like us and reflect us, best believe we’re going to show up in more historical numbers to support those candidates that look like us.”
“We are prime examples of exactly what young people can do when they are in office, and most importantly, what they can do when they are supported and when they are put in leadership positions within their own school boards,” Ceniceros said. “They move mountains and they put leaders in place who reflect the community and we do the work.”
Before winning his election to the Littleton school board, Ceniceros and Francesca Martin founded the voter outreach group Keep Arizona Blue Student Coalition. Members of the student-led group work to register their peers to vote and provide information online and in-person that resonates with Gen Z voters. Martin, the deputy director of the organization, said this includes combating groups like Moms for Liberty.
“Young people see through Moms for Liberty’s hateful rhetoric, and are really stepping up to elect progressive school board members across the state,” Martin said.
Part of Moms for Liberty’s recruitment process is a candidate pledge that asks potential officeholders to strengthen parental involvement and secure parental rights in government decision-making. In contrast, Keep Arizona Blue focuses on progressive candidates who prioritize student perspectives and public schools.
Currently, Moms for Liberty only has one candidate in Arizona who has signed the group’s candidate pledge: Anna Van Hoek, who is running for Higley Unified School District Governing Board.
Dyer, Ceniceros, and Martin all said they would encourage students to pay attention to their local school board elections and vote in them if they can.
“We can solve a lot of problems, but also bring new ideas and new perspectives if we really empower students,” Dyer said.
*Editor’s note: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated the number of current school board members who are part of Gen Z. We regret the error.
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