The district’s COVID-19 mask policy, diversity, equity and inclusion efforts and the impacts of a 2018 bond measure, were all topics during the Post’s candidate forum Wednesday night featuring candidates running for three seats on the USD 232 board of education.
All of the races in USD 232 this year are contested.
The candidates vying for the Member 4 Area are Crystal Duke and incumbent board member Danielle Heikes, who currently represents the Member 6 area. Heikes moved within the district since her last election and is now running for reelection in her new home area.
In Member Area 5, Calley Malloy and Amy Parker are facing each other for the seat currently held by John Gaignat, who recently announced his withdrawal from the race and endorsed Malloy. Gaignat’s name will still appear on the Nov. 2 ballot.
For the Member 6 Area, the candidates are Emily Carpenter and Brandi Jonasson, running for the seat being vacated by Heikes, who is now running in the Member 4 area.
The Post livestreamed the forum on its Facebook page. The entire video can also be found embedded below.
Here are the questions and corresponding time stamps. Note that a candidate uses explicit language at 1:04:10.
- USD 232 is continuing to do work related to the massive $85 million bond measure approved by voters in 2018. The bonds are funding more than two dozen projects across the district, including new athletic fields at both high schools, a new performing arts center at De Soto High and expansion of Starside Elementary’s cafeteria. Which projects have you seen have the most benefit for students and staff and why? [12:34]
- Fair to say that the most discussed topic in USD 232 over the past year, as in many school districts, has been its handling of the COVID-19 pandemic. School board members here and elsewhere have been confronted with an unprecedented crisis … and had to make critical decisions that involve complex science and passionate emotions. We’ll get to actual questions about masks and other more detailed responses to the pandemic, but first this: What do you see as the school board’s role in navigating the COVID-19 pandemic in setting policies that affect student health and the learning environment? [19:24]
- Currently, USD 232 — like most other public school districts in Johnson County — requires masking for all students, staff and visitors inside its facilities. Families can request exemptions based on certain medical conditions. There are also situations, like eating lunch or playing sports indoors, where students can take their masks off. Let’s start with a YES or NO question … and then I’m going to ask some follow ups. Do you support the district’s current mask policy? [29:25]
- If YES: Critics, among other things, say the current mask policy is too broad and takes away parents’ power to make choices for their kids. At school board meetings, we’ve heard parents opposed to mandatory masks say mask-wearing is exacerbating academic problems and mental health issues in children. Some opponents to universal masking point to the fact that though kids are getting infected, severe illness and death from COVID-19 in children is rare and that a universal mask rule, therefore, is overreaching in its scope. How do you answer these concerns? Is there room to make more accommodations for parents wanting their children to go unmasked, while also preserving broader collective health?
- If NO: There is growing evidence both locally and nationally that shows schools with universal mask policies are experiencing less cases of COVID-19 than schools that have less stringent mask rules. For instance, in Johnson County … Spring Hill, the only public school district without a universal mask rule has had COVID rates more than double the countywide average for schools, according to the county health department. More cases at school leads to more students being quarantined at home, missing out on in-person classes. If elected, would you advocate for looser mask rules even if it meant potentially more students being exposed to COVID, getting sick and having to be excluded from school at home? Is that an acceptable tradeoff to you?
- We have now been facing the challenge of the COVID-19 pandemic for a year-and-a-half. And school board members, along with many other elected officials, have had to learn on the fly about public health, epidemiology and the science behind things like vaccines and air ventilation. If elected, you will likely have to make critical decisions about how the district continues to handle its response to the pandemic. Given that, some of our readers want to know where you get your information about COVID-19 and what sources of information about the pandemic you trust? [44:00]
- Debates over masks and other COVID-19 mitigation protocols, in schools and elsewhere, often come down to deeper disagreements over values and what is the proper tradeoff between collective public health and individual freedom. If elected, you will likely face pandemic-related decisions that impact thousands of students and their families, and may force you to weigh these competing demands of individuals and the greater community. How do you see this tradeoff between individual freedom and public health? Which way, if either, do you lean? [51:45]
- Last year, USD 232 added a goal to its long-term plan: “Improve diversity and engagement, including racial and ethnic, throughout the district.” This strategy included the creation of a parent advisory group that would help the district assess potential areas of improvement. The district has also considered joining a metro-wide ‘Equity Cohort’ of schools convened by the Kauffman Foundation and has committed to conducting ongoing professional development with teachers and staff. Do you support the district’s approach so far to diversity, equity and inclusion? Why or why not? [59:39]
- A term that many of our readers wanted to ask about is “critical race theory.” Now, I’m going to ask you in a moment to define what that term — “critical race theory” — means to you. But here are a few things to know before we get into this discussion. Earlier this summer, the Kansas Association of School Boards issued a statement saying “critical race theory” is not part of any Kansas state academic standards, calling it a “theoretical approach to material generally discussed in higher education.” Likewise, the Kansas State Board of Education said critical race theory has been “unfortunately conflated with educational equity.” Still, there are many prominent political and cultural leaders, both locally and nationally, who insist public school students need to be shielded from “critical race theory” or concepts derived from it. So, how do you define “critical race theory” and do you think it poses a challenge to USD 232? [1:07:47]
- Maybe now more than ever, parents, families and students are aware of the impact technology can have on learning, both good and bad, after the pandemic last school year forced many kids to spend big chunks of time learning at home. Since 2019, all students in grades 6-12 have been assigned their own laptop, while each elementary classroom in the district has been given a set of devices to use during instruction. What do you think of the district’s one-to-one initiative? How is it working? What could be improved? [1:14:00]