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McFeely blog: New Fargo private school looks kind of Trumpy

Capstone Classical Academy has ties to conservative Hillsdale College, which has strong ties to Trump

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U.S. President Donald Trump listens to U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos speak at meeting with teachers and parents at the White House in Washington, U.S. on February 14, 2017.
REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque/File Photo
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FARGO — Do we have a Donald J. Trump Academy in Fargo?

Or maybe it might be called a MAGA Charter School.

Time will tell, but the red flags (or is it caps?) are waving already.

The Capstone Classical Academy, as reported by The Forum on Friday, will begin classes this fall . It will be located in southwest Fargo. It was started by what C.S. Hagen's story described as the "brainchild of business-minded people and educators."

It will be a private, Christian school. Nothing unusual there.

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It is affiliated with Hillsdale College in Michigan.

And that's where the questions begin.

Hillsdale is a small private school (enrollment 1,500) that is exceedingly conservative with ties to former President Trump. It is well-known in conservative circles for its growing influence in Republican politics (its graduates are increasingly being named as top staffers to key GOP politicians, including South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem) and the fact it refuses federal aid so as not to be held to U.S. Department of Education standards.

The former Secretary of Education under Trump (and opponent of public education) Betsy DeVos is a financial supporter of Hillsdale and has made speeches on campus.

The school’s president, Larry Arnn, endorsed Trump in 2016 and was reportedly on the short list of candidates to become Trump’s education secretary before DeVos got the job.

According to the Sacramento Bee , Trump named Arnn chairman of his Advisory 1776 Commission, "which Trump created during the campaign to combat 'left-wing indoctrination in our schools.' An official with Hillsdale's Washington, D.C., satellite campus was named executive director of the commission."

Hillsdale at one time was a major sponsor of conservative Rush Limbaugh's radio show and continues to support right-wing host Mark Levin , who has a close relationship to the college.

In December 2021, the Daily Kos accused Hillsdale of "COVID denial and peddling disinformation about the pandemic and its variants." Hillsdale is said to be establishing an Academy for Science and Freedom and one of its leaders will be Dr. Scott Atlas, who Trump appointed as one of his top COVID advisers. Despite being a radiologist with no experience in epidemiology, Atlas pushed the concept of "herd immunity" in the early days of the pandemic.

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In May 2021, according to the New Republic, Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran gave a speech saying the primary purpose of school not be education or training students for employment, but instead they should see it as instilling moral values.

Corcoran said when it comes to America’s bitterest ideological fights, "the war will be won in education."

"And finally," New Republic reported, "while Republican education policies had played a vital role in advancing 'school choice,' (Corcoran said) the next step was to get so many families to flee public schools that no future administration would be able to undo the damage."

To that end, it would appear, Hillsdale started a network of affilated "classical academies." There are more than two dozen in at least 11 states. The college serves as a consultant, providing local organizers a curriculum and teacher training.

Hillsdale has come under heavy scrutiny for what its critics believe is a dismal record on LGBTQ and racial discrimination. Because Hillsdale refuses federal money and will not allow its student to use federal loans or grants, the New York Times reported, "the college does not follow Title IX guidelines on sex discrimination and the handling of sexual assault cases and it has refused to engage in the otherwise required reporting on student race and ethnicity, let alone develop an affirmative action plan."

Capstone Classical Academy says it is the first private affiliated K-12 school in the Hillsdale network.

No word yet if red caps are part of the school uniforms.

Opinion by Mike McFeely
Mike McFeely is a columnist for The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead. He began working for The Forum in the 1980s while he was a student studying journalism at Minnesota State University Moorhead. He's been with The Forum full time since 1990, minus a six-year hiatus when he hosted a local radio talk-show.
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