Parent Facebook groups spark political discourse, disagreements


Illustration by Kupu Sumi

One key element to understand civic engagement in Evanston is to consider the nature of communication between Evanston families. There is a vital connection between Evanston parents and guardians and the broader D65 and D202 school community which often has important effects on our schools. 

Within both D65 and D202, Evanston parents have historically been active in their school communities. While parents mainly communicate through social media threads, the complexity and layers of these conversations should not be overlooked. Elizabeth Hubbard, the moderator for the ETHS Parents and Guardians Facebook thread, sees the good, the bad and the ugly from the ETHS chat. 

I’ve tried really hard to keep it positive and to avoid a lot of gossip or name calling, because it’s my personality to keep it positive,” Hubbard says. “It definitely doesn’t always work and strays into the more negative, but I’ve liked to keep it more about sharing information and helping each other out.”

Parents and guardians may have joined the Facebook threads for different reasons, but they have a shared goal of looking out for the students. Although these group chats have negatives, Tracy Fulce, Evanston parent and D65 parent and guardian Facebook page administrator, shows the way it can bring equity to the parent community. 

“I think in general, social media gets a bad rap. Because, I mean, there are terrible things happening on social media. That is a fact. But I also think it’s a great democratizer,” Fulce says. “If I was someone with limited mobility, I can still engage with my community. And I think it’s because our society made it so that they were not as visible. Social media allows the voiceless a voice. And so even though, yes, there are genuinely terrible people online, those terrible people are terrible—they’re going to be terrible on social media, they’re gonna be terrible in Target, they’re gonna be terrible in their house. I feel like it’s worth it to put up with the nonsense for the ultimate good thing of having access.”

Not only does Fulce recognize a positive side to the group chats, but Hubbard also sees it as a positive source of information for parents and guardians.  

“I think I joined when my first [kid] was a freshman, because I did want to learn more about ETHS,” Hubbard says. “And I thought it would be a place where I could ask questions. Because, as I said before, I think parents don’t really have a great handle on all the things that happen there, and kids—no offense to you—don’t tell them.”

Fulce has been the Administrator for the D65 parents and guardians Facebook page for the past four years. Through her time, she has had similar experiences to Hubbard, and acknowledges that some of the criticisms of the thread are warranted. 

“Some of the things that people say on there are shocking to me. Because their name is on it,” says Fulce. “I could see if you were hiding behind, you know, some wacko username, but your name is on that. Your neighbors are gonna see that. It is stunning to me what people are willing to say in public about friends and neighbors. It just seems crazy.”

Hubbard agrees with Fulce and goes on to discuss the negatives she has seen in the D65 thread. 

Hubbard explains, “I think it is different in District 65. I think it has had a lot more drama, a lot more negativity, a lot more name calling than District 202. On our parents page, we’ve tried very, very hard to remain positive and functional.” 

The drama, negativity and name calling in both of the threads center around different things. Fulce says that when the negativity starts, there is usually a deep divide formed between parents.

Last year, D65 determined that Halloween should not be celebrated in the school. The feedback in the groupchat was very intense on both sides. 

“The pro Halloween group found a whole bunch of people who were like, ‘Yeah, you’re right, they’re taking away our Halloween. This is terrible. They’re evil.’ And the people who were ‘who cares about Halloween?’ people, they were like, ‘I’m so glad I found people who don’t care about Halloween,’” says Fulce. “So, it was literally the same thing. So is there inclusion on the two sides? Yes. But is there inclusion that crosses sides? Not as much as I would hope.”

There has been much talk surrounding the threads of Evanston parents. Much of those threads have been used to communicate, while some of the messages that people post aren’t as respectful to other opinions. Though these threads can be portrayed as positive or negative, they are a place where parents can gather together to discuss issues. 

“I’ve learned a lot about the richness of this community,” says Fulce. “Because the internet allows us to connect with people, who may not necessarily be immediately visible to us, they may not live in my ward, or on my block, or in my neighborhood, or whatever, I now am able to connect with them. And I think that that’s been very helpful to me.”