Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy escorted former Republican candidate for president Ben Carson when he spoke to students in Wasilla and Anchorage on Monday, a day before Carson was set to appear at a Republican fundraiser.
Carson’s appearances at Iditarod Elementary School in Wasilla and the Boys and Girls Club in Anchorage’s Mountain View neighborhood came after Anchorage School District Superintendent Jharett Bryantt earlier this month declined a request by Dunleavy administration officials to have Carson speak to an assembly at Mountain View Elementary.
“The decision was based on (Bryantt’s) belief in the sacredness of classroom instructional time during the first three weeks of a new school year. Those three weeks set strong foundations for a student’s school year success,” district spokesperson MJ Thim said in an email.
Carson, a retired neurosurgeon, ran for president in 2016 as a Republican, then served as U.S. Secretary of Housing under former President Donald Trump. In 2021, Carson founded a conservative think tank, the American Cornerstone Institute. He wrote a children’s book, “Why America Matters,” and launched an online curriculum called “Little Patriots,” both of which emphasize Carson’s Christian faith.
Acting education commissioner Deena Bishop said Carson’s school visits were initiated in light of his existing speaking engagement in Anchorage. Carson is set to appear at a fundraising event for the Anchorage Republican Women’s Club at Cornerstone Church on Tuesday evening, after a reception headlined by Dunleavy and Anchorage Mayor Dave Bronson.
“Dr. Carson was here on other business, and he does school visits, and so as commissioner, I just offered and talked to people about, ‘Hey, anybody ... want to hear from Dr. Carson?’” said Bishop, who previously served as Anchorage superintendent.
Since launching his institute, Carson has visited schools in 12 states, according to his spokesperson Brad Bishop.
Deena Bishop reached out to Mountain View Elementary School principal Clare Hill with a request for the school to organize an assembly and host Carson. District spokesperson MJ Thim said that Hill conveyed the request to the superintendent’s office earlier this month, at which point Bryantt decided not to allow it.
Thim said the reason for declining the request was to avoid interfering with the beginning of the school year. Classes began Thursday, and Monday marked the rollout of a new school start time and professional development program for teachers. No other school principals had reported being contacted about a possible visit from Carson, Thim said.
Bryantt’s decision led to a cascade of scathing opinions published on social media and on right-wing media sites.
“This has been distracting to the launch of our new school year, especially given how sacred every instructional minute is in the classroom,” the superintendent’s office wrote in an email responding to complaints that streamed in after Bryantt’s decision was first reported.
“No one was banned. Nothing was canceled because nothing was scheduled,” Thim said in an email.
Bryantt later said his decision “wasn’t about who the guest was, it really was about the school day.”
Carson said at a news conference hosted by Dunleavy that Bryantt’s decision reflected that “some people have allowed politics to enter the educational arena.”
“I’m actually glad it worked out the way it did here. I was gonna be speaking at a different school and there were some people who were negative about that, and so I ended up here,” Carson told a crowd of around 70 children that gathered at the Boys and Girls Club in Mountain View on Monday afternoon, before reading to them from his children’s book and offering to hand out copies.
Also in the crowd at Mountain View were Dunleavy, Lt. Gov. Nancy Dahlstrom and her husband, Bronson and his wife, and Bryantt.
Dunleavy said Carson “embodies the American dream” and that he is “a model for many and an inconvenient truth for some.”