Johnson County school board elections hinged on masks, critical race theory — see results in your district

School board elections in Johnson County this year turned largely on districts' COVID-19 masking policies and approaches to diversity and race. Above, a classroom in the Blue Valley School District. File image.

As in school districts across the country, debates over masks and schools’ approaches to diversity and inclusion, often cast through the lens of critical race theory, created an unusual amount of attention for school board races in Johnson County this election year.

There were three contested races in the three public school districts covered by the Shawnee Mission and Blue Valley Posts.

Here is how the contests turned out in each of those districts.

Blue Valley

For the Member 4 area, Kaety Bowers won with almost 53% of the votes, beating out Andrew Van Der Laan.

A little over 1,500 votes divided the two candidates after Election Night, with some mail-in ballots still to be counted.

Kaety Bowers

Bowers ran much of her campaign on the belief that masking of students should not be mandated by the board.

Van Der Laan said though he himself is certainly disappointed, he mostly feels bad for the hundreds of volunteers that put time and effort into the campaign.

“They really believed in the vision we articulated for the schools, so it’s a loss for them the same way it’s a loss for me,” Van Der Laan said.

Meanwhile, in the Member 5 area, Gina Knapp won, besting Christine White, by a margin of 53% to 45%.

Though White’s name appeared on the ballot, she announced her withdrawal from the race in late September.

Gina Knapp at a Post forum in October.

Knapp said she is extremely grateful for winning.

Once seated, Knapp said “the first thing I want to be looking at is pandemic learning loss… and special education.”

The results in Member 6 Area may have to wait for the final official canvass next week.

With slightly over 50% of the votes, Jim McMullen is currently leading against Lindsay Weiss, but just 165 votes separate the two, out of more than 26,820 votes cast.

Jim McMullen at a Post forum.

“That was nerve wracking and close, but I’m pleased,” McMullen said on Tuesday night.

Lindsay Weiss

If he does eventually come out the winner, McMullen said he is looking forward to focusing on his ideas that he advanced during the campaign, including smaller class sizes and phonic-based reading instruction.

Weiss said she had not yet formally conceded and wishes the unofficial results had been more definitive.

She did add that she will be happy with and accept the outcome whichever way it goes following the official canvass on Nov. 9.

Shawnee Mission

Shawnee Mission voters reelected two incumbents and a third candidate endorsed by an outgoing board member, all of whom voiced support for the district’s current masking rules.

Ousley, during a pre-pandemic school board meeting. File image.

Heather Ousley, the At-Large board member, retained her seat by beating challenger Brian Neilson by nearly 20%.

Neilson was one of the several Johnson County school board candidates endorsed by The 1776 Project PAC, which espoused opposition to the teaching of critical race theory in schools. He also urged masks be made optional in schools.

Ousley won on Tuesday, 59% to 40% vote, according to Johnson County Election Office’s unofficial final results.

Ousley told the Post she believes the results are a reflection of voters’ support for the strategic plan, and is “appreciative” of the opportunity to continue that work.

While the last two years of her term proved to be challenging, in particular navigating COVID-19, Ousley said it’s gratifying to see continued support for her and East-area board member Mary Sinclair, who also won by double digits on Tuesday.

Ousley said as the At-Large member, she represents everyone in the district — not just those who support her.

Mary Sinclair, participating in a Post forum in October.

“I’m committed to making sure we meet our students’ needs, no matter who the student is or where they’re from — everyone is welcome in Shawnee Mission,” Ousley said. “We will do everything we can to make sure everyone gets a high quality education.”

Neilson did not immediately respond to the Post’s requests for comment.

Sinclair, the incumbent boar member in the SM East Area, won against challenger Zach Roberts by the margin of 64% to 35%, according to unofficial final results.

Sinclair said she’s honored to be able to serve another four years and intends to focus on putting career and college readiness at the forefront of her work.

Roberts did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

And in the race for the SM West Area seat being vacated by Laura Guy, April Boyd-Noronha beat Sean Claycamp, 55% to 44% vote, according to unofficial final results.

April Boyd-Noronha at the Post’s forum in October.

Boyd-Noronha did not immediately respond to request for comment.

Despite the loss, Claycamp said the voter turnout shows “there’s frustration with the current school board.”

“People finally paid attention to a school board election and have figured out that local politics really matter,” Claycamp said. “We didn’t get the results we wanted, but that’s okay. It was awesome that people really paid attention.”

USD 232 (De Soto)

Races for a seat on the USD 232 Board of Education were highly watched this election season, with six candidates vying for three seats.

A Facebook video of  the Post’s candidate forum in late September hit nearly 25,000 views and generated more than 2,000 reactions, comments and shares on the social media platform.

Here’s a look at how the candidates for the USD 232 school board fared on Election Day and the winners’ plans once seated.

School District Member 4

Incumbent board member and current Board President Danielle Heikes took home 54% of the vote Tuesday, besting Crystal Duke, who garnered 46%.

Danielle Heikes, on Election Night.

“I’m feeling very gracious, very relieved and extremely humble,” Heikes said. “I’m very grateful to the 232 community and to all of our supporters.”

Once seated in her second full term (she served two years of a recall position, starting in 2015), Heikes said she plans to focus on three primary areas: fostering district initiatives that advocate for all students, expanding upon teacher and staff attraction and retention programs, and community engagement and involvement.

Duke could not be reached for comment.

School District Member 5

With 50% of the votes, Calley Malloy won a term for the School District Member 5 seat, beating Amy Parker, who took home 45% of the votes.

Incumbent John Gaignat, who was on the ballot but bowed out of the race a few months ago, still garnered 4% of the vote tally.

Calley Malloy, at an Election Night watch party.

Malloy shared her appreciation for her first term on the school board that, she says, marks a new opportunity for the district.

“We are so thankful for the community, for our voters, for our team,” Malloy said. “Our team has come so far.”

Once seated, Malloy said she plans to focus on career readiness for students, expanding STEM opportunities and leveraging community relationships, including with the Kansas City-based Stowers Institute for Medical Research in building a future partnership with the school district’s Cedar Trails Exploration Center (CTEC).

Parker said she had no comment for the Shawnee Mission Post.

School District Member 6

In the race for School District Member 6, Brandi Jonasson beat Emily Carpenter.

Jonasson won 54% of the vote compared to Carpenter’s 46%.

Entering her first term on the school board, Jonasson shared a mix of positive emotions for the election results.

“I’m very excited and relieved that the campaign part of it’s over; I’m ready to get to work,” Jonasson said.

Brandi Jonasson, speaking at a Shawnee Mission Post candidate forum in September.

Once seated, Jonasson said she plans to focus her attention on educators and staff, particularly retaining quality teachers and “hiring the best of the best in our district,” as well as exploring more learning opportunities for students at the new Cedar Trails Exploration Center.

“Teachers and educators and the staff in this district are my passion,” she said.

Jonasson said she would also like to focus on building communication between the school board and parents in order to build back trust, particularly in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic and district decisions in response to it.

“There is obviously divisiveness in our school district, and I know that communication was brought up several times on both sides,” Jonasson said. “There are other people that didn’t vote for me and that would like to see changes. And so I definitely want to work on the communication between the board and the parents and the community.”