Hall Pass: Your Ticket to Understanding School Board Politics, Edition #4

Welcome to Hall Pass. This newsletter keeps you plugged into the conversations driving school board politics and governance. Each week, we bring you a roundup of the latest on school board elections, along with sharp commentary and research from across the political spectrum on the issues confronting school boards in the country’s 14,000 school districts. We’ll also bring you the latest on school board elections and recall efforts, including candidate filing deadlines and election results.

On the issues

In this section, we curate reporting, analysis, and commentary on the issues school board members deliberate when they set out to offer the best education possible in their district.

The debate over Florida’s Parental Rights in Education bill

The Florida House of Representatives approved HB 1557, the Parental Rights in Education bill, on Feb. 24, 2022. As of March 1, the bill is before the state Senate.

Below, Amit Paley, CEO and executive director of the Trevor Project, and Joe Saunders, senior political director for Equality Florida, write that Florida’s Parental Rights in Education bill is too vague and would harm LGBTQ students and students with LGBTQ parents. The Trevor Project says its mission is “[t]o end suicide among lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer & questioning young people.” Equality Florida says it is “the largest civil rights organization dedicated to securing full equality for Florida’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) community.”

Jay Richards and Jared Echkert with the Heritage Foundation write that media outlets are mischaracterizing Florida’s Parental Rights in Education bill. They say it would create greater transparency and protect children from material and topics that are not age appropriate. The Heritage Foundation says its mission is to “formulate and promote public policies based on the principles of free enterprise, limited government, individual freedom, traditional American values, and a strong national defense.”

Florida’s ‘don’t say gay’ bill is cruel and dangerous | Amit Paley and Joe Saunders, CNN

“One of the most extreme examples [of anti-LGBTQ legislation] is a piece of legislation in Florida known as the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill. It states school districts ‘may not encourage discussion about sexual orientation or gender identity in primary grade levels or in a manner that is not age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students.’ The language, which is vague and could apply to K-12 classrooms across Florida, could be used to prohibit open discussions of LGBTQ people and issues. If passed, it would effectively erase entire chapters of history, literature, and critical health information in schools — and silence LGBTQ students and those with LGBTQ parents or family members. It’s just one of several divisive and dehumanizing bills in Florida that use LGBTQ youth as political pawns to limit conversations about gender and sexual identity. Let’s be clear: The ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill will do real and lasting harm.”

Florida’s Parental Rights in Education Bill Hits Target: Gender Ideology Harms Kids | Jay Richards and Jared Eckert, The Heritage Foundation

“Lawmakers in the Sunshine State have introduced a new bill, Parental Rights in Education. If the name doesn’t ring a bell, that may be because big media have mislabeled it as the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ Bill. The bill would not ban the word ‘gay.’ Rather, it would protect children from teachers and other school officials who seek to sexualize and bombard them with gender ideology. In particular, it would require schools to be transparent with and get permission from parents for any health services students receive. It would also prohibit elementary school teachers from pushing classroom discussion of sexual orientation and gender identity. Liberal activists are claiming that the parental rights bill would harm kids. Nonsense. It would protect young kids from what is, in effect, sexual grooming—whether in the classroom or the nurse’s office. The fact that this has become a partisan issue is a sign of how bizarre our culture and politics have become.”

School board update: filing deadlines, election results, and recall certifications

Ballotpedia has historically covered school board elections in about 500 of the country’s largest districts. We’re gradually expanding the number we cover with our eye on all of the roughly 14,000 districts with elected school boards.

States with school board filing deadlines in the next 30 days

March 1

The following Nebraska school districts have non-incumbent filing deadlines (the filing deadline for incumbents was Feb. 15):

March 7

The following Texas school districts have filing deadlines:

Upcoming school board elections

We’re covering one school board recall election in the next 30 days. The March 29 recall is against Tim Stentiford, one of the 12 members of the Regional School Unit 21 school board in Maine. Recall supporters listed a loss of teachers in the district, increased spending in human resources, and the lack of a school board curriculum committee as reasons for the recall effort.

Schools in the following states will hold general school board elections on April 5:

  • Arkansas
  • Oklahoma
  • Missouri
  • Wisconsin 

We’ll bring you more on those elections in future editions. 

School board candidates per seat up for election

Within the 144 school board races we are covering whose filing deadlines have passed, an average of 2.3 candidates are running for each seat, down from 2.62 candidates per seat on Feb. 23.

Judge rules against Virginia school’s new admissions policy

On Feb. 25., Claude Hilton, a senior judge on the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, ruled that Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, a selective public high school in Virginia, violated federal law when it changed its admissions policies to boost the enrollment of Black and Hispanic students. President Ronald Reagan (R) appointed Hilton to the court in 1985.

The Fairfax County Public Schools Board of Education voted to implement the admissions system on Dec. 17, 2020. Changes included removal of the requirement that eligible students take three standardized tests and a new evaluation criteria that considering factors like the applicant’s attendance at schools regarded as historically underrepresented. 

Coalition for TJ, a group of parents whose kids had applied or were planning on applying to the school, sued the Fairfax County School Board on March 3, 2021. They alleged the new admissions policy violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and discriminated against Asian-American students. The Pacific Legal Foundation, which describes itself as a “nonprofit legal organization that defends Americans’ liberties when threatened by government overreach and abuse,” is representing Coalition for TJ. The case is titled Coalition for TJ v. Fairfax County School Board.

In his ruling, Hilton noted the proportion of Asian-American students admitted to the school declined under the new system, falling from 73% in the class of 2024 to 54% in the class of 2025.

Hilton wrote: “Even aside from the statements confirming that the board’s goal was to bring racial balance to TJ, the board’s requests for racial data demonstrate discriminatory intent. Discriminatory intent does not require racial animus. What matters is that the board acted at least in part because of, not merely in spite of the policy’s adverse effects upon an identifiable group.”

John Foster, an attorney for the Fairfax County Public Schools, said, “The new process is blind to race, gender and national origin and gives the most talented students from every middle school a seat at TJ. We believe that a trial would have shown that the new process meets all legal requirements.”

Foster said the Fairfax County Public Schools is considering an appeal. 

SCOTUS to hear race in admissions questions

In related news, the U.S. Supreme Court will consider two consolidated cases dealing with the use of race in higher education admissions in its 2022-2023 term.

On Jan. 24, 2022, the court agreed to hear arguments in Students for Fair Admissions, Inc. v. President & Fellows of Harvard, a case challenging Harvard University’s and the University of North Carolina’s (UNC) admissions policies. The case was consolidated with Students for Fair Admissions, Inc. v. University of North Carolina.

Students for Fair Admissions, Inc. (SFFA), the plaintiff in both consolidated cases, challenged the legality of race-conscious admissions programs in federally-funded higher education institutions. SFFA alleged these programs violated Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution’s 14th Amendment.

SFFA appealed to the Supreme Court on Feb. 25, 2021, after the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 1st Circuit ruled that Harvard’s admissions program did not violate Title VI. On Nov. 11, 2021, SFFA again appealed to the Supreme Court after the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina decided in favor of the legality of UNC’s admissions program.

SFFA asked the Supreme Court to overrule its 2003 decision in Grutter v. Bollinger, in which the Court upheld the use of such race-conscious programs so long as the use of race is “narrowly tailored to further compelling government interests.” The Court found that the University of Michigan Law School’s admissions program did not violate the 14th Amendment or Title VI because “the Equal Protection Clause does not prohibit the Law School’s narrowly tailored use of race in admissions decisions to further a compelling interest in obtaining the educational benefits that flow from a diverse student body.”

SFFA presented the following questions to the court:

  • “Should this Court overrule Grutter v. Bollinger, 539 U.S. 306 (2003), and hold that institutions of higher education cannot use race as a factor in admissions?”
  • “Title VI of the Civil Rights Act bans race-based admissions that, if done by a public university, would violate the Equal Protection Clause. Gratz v. Bollinger, 539 U.S. 244, 276 n.23 (2003). Is Harvard violating Title VI by penalizing Asian-American applicants, engaging in racial balancing, overemphasizing race, and rejecting workable race neutral alternatives?”

Harvard President Lawrence Bacow said, “The Supreme Court decision to review the unanimous decisions of the lower federal courts puts at risk 40 years of legal precedent granting colleges and universities the freedom and flexibility to create diverse campus communities.” 

UNC associate vice chancellor for communication Beth Keith said, “As the trial court held, our process is consistent with long-standing Supreme Court precedent and allows for an evaluation of each student in a deliberate and thoughtful way.”

Click here to learn more about Students for Fair Admissions, Inc. v. President & Fellows of Harvard

Take our Candidate Connection survey to reach voters in your district

Everyone deserves to know their candidates. However, we know it can be hard for voters to find information about their candidates, especially for local offices such as school boards. That’s why we created Candidate Connection—a survey designed to help candidates tell voters about their campaigns, their issues, and so much more. 

In the 2020 election cycle, 4,745 candidates completed the survey. 

If you’re a school board candidate or incumbent, click here to take the survey.

The survey contains over 30 questions, and you can choose the ones you feel will best represent your views to voters. If you complete the survey, a box with your answers will display on your Ballotpedia profile. Your responses will also populate the information that appears in our mobile app, My Vote Ballotpedia.

And if you’re not running for school board, but there is an election in your community this year, share the link with the candidates and urge them to take the survey!