Hall Pass: Your Ticket to Understanding School Board Politics

Welcome to Hall Pass, a newsletter that keeps you plugged into the conversations driving school board politics and governance.

In today’s edition, you’ll find:

  • On the issues:  The debate over using school suspensions to discipline students
  • In your district: Budgets  
  • School board filing deadlines, election results, and recall certifications
  • Eight state executive candidates endorsed 106 school board candidates in Ballotpedia’s coverage scope in 2022
  • Orange County districts fire superintendents 
  • Extracurricular: education news from around the web
  • Candidate Connection survey

Email editor@ballotpedia.org to share reactions or story ideas!

On the issues: The debate over using school suspensions to discipline students 

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.

Should schools suspend students for misbehavior? 

Max Eden writes that suspensions protect other students and ensure a focused learning environment. He says trying to reduce racial disparities through non-suspension policies can result in exposing students to more violence. Eden also says that while suspensions can harm students, disruptive peers who are not removed from classrooms can harm other students and their ability to focus and learn.  

Linda Stamato and Sandy Jaffee write that suspensions harm students and disproportionately affect children of color and children from lower-income families. Stamato and Jaffee say suspensions do not reduce bad behavior and that most behavioral problems are best dealt with at school. Stamato and Jaffee say that most disputes are resolvable and that faculty should try to help students better process their feelings. They call the in-school mediation process restorative justice and say it can reduce suspensions and promote racial equity.

In Defense of Suspensions | Max Eden, EducationWeek

“[I]f we pursue wholesale policy changes on the assumption racial bias is solely responsible for the disparity (the assumption behind the Department of Education’s “Dear Colleague” guidance on discipline) then we run a strong risk of overcorrecting. Rapid overhauls of the entire system might well breed rampant disorder in schools—and in places where that approach has been taken, the results aren’t looking pretty. … [W]hile claims of the benefits of not suspending disruptive students are likely oversold, the harm done to students by disruptive peers is certainly underappreciated. … It’s fair to question whether suspensions are truly the best tool to maintain classroom order. But it’s important to recognize that any major policy change is likely to have tradeoffs, harming some students even as it helps others. … We simply don’t have enough data to evaluate the effects of discipline changes in most American school districts. That means that the policymakers pushing suspension-reduction reforms are doing so quite literally ignorant of the consequences of their actions for poor and minority students who are just trying to behave, learn, and have a fair opportunity at life.”

Suspending students isn’t the answer. Restorative justice programs in schools are a better solution. | Opinion | Linda Stamato and Sandy Jaffee, NJ.com

“Suspensions raise a number of issues, not least how to deal with disruptive behavior, equitably and effectively, to understand its causes, and to identify and address conditions that may be contributing factors. The critical question is this: Does removing students from school reduce the incidence of aberrant behavior? The short answer is no. Suspended students are more likely to be suspended more than once, to drop out of school, moreover, and to end up in court accused of crimes. And yet, schools have relied on suspension as the primary means of dealing with discipline problems. … Restorative justice attempts to reach beyond punitive measures to solve problems before they escalate and threaten the fabric of the school community. … Critical in these efforts is the recognition that students with behavioral problems are unlikely to be helped by removing them from school and providing no support services or establishing any conditions to be met before they return to classes. Conflict, after all, involves bullying, disrespect, harassment and fights often mask prejudice, attitudes, hurts and fears that contribute to tensions that clearly require attention. While conflict may be natural, schools need to provide constructive avenues for students’ expression and management.”

In your district: Budgets 

School districts around the country face diverse issues and challenges. We want to hear what’s happening in your school district. Complete the very brief survey below—anonymously, if you prefer—and we may share your response with fellow subscribers in an upcoming newsletter.

Today’s question:

 What are your thoughts on the current and proposed budget for your school district? 

Click here to respond!

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 the more than 13,000 districts with elected school boards.

Upcoming school board elections

Ballotpedia is covering all school board elections in Oklahoma on Feb. 14. On that day, Oklahoma districts will hold primary elections. General elections will be held April 4. Some of the districts holding elections include:

Click here to learn more about 2023 school board elections. 

Eight state executive candidates endorsed 106 school board candidates in Ballotpedia’s coverage scope in 2022

Governors and other state executive officials rarely make endorsements in school board elections, as those elections are local and typically nonpartisan. But in 2022, state executive officials and candidates made at least 106 school board candidate endorsements. Endorsements included official statements, appearances at campaign rallies, and direct participation in campaign ads and materials. The state executives and candidates to make endorsements were:

  • Arizona: Gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake (R) and Superintendent of Public Instruction candidate Shiry Sapir (R)
  • California: Attorney general candidate Eric Early (R)
  • Florida: Gov. Ron DeSantis (R), gubernatorial candidate Charlie Crist (D), and Lt. Gov. Jeanette Nuñez (R)
  • Maryland: Gubernatorial candidate Dan Cox (R)

DeSantis was the only executive whose full slate of candidates won. Across all 106 endorsements, candidates had a 56.6% success rate.

To view a full list of endorsements for each candidate, click here.

Orange County districts fire superintendents

On Jan. 6, the Orange Unified School District school board in Orange County, Calif., voted 4-3 to fire Superintendent Gunn Marie Hansen. The board deliberated behind closed doors, and did not explain its decision. Hansen became superintendent of Orange Unified School District in 2017, having previously served as the district’s superintendent of educational services. 

Hansen is the second Orange County public school superintendent fired in the last three weeks. 

On Dec. 21, 2022, the Capistrano Unified School District school board voted 4-3 to fire Superintendent Kirsten Vital Brulte. Board President Krista Castellanos said in an email: “It is important to mention that the action taken was not for cause. We are grateful for her leadership and wish her the best in her future endeavors.” Brulte became superintendent in 2014.  

In November, the ideological balance of the Orange Unified Board of Education school board shifted when Madison Miner defeated Kathryn Moffat, a 22-year incumbent, in the general election for Orange Unified Board of Education Trustee Area 4. Miner completed Ballotpedia’s Candidate Connection survey. In the survey, Miner said she planned to, “Cut wasteful spending and return tax dollars to the classrooms where they belong. Protect our parents’ rights with medical and school choice decisions. Adopt better options to replace the current ethnic studies and sex ed curriculum.” 

Orange Unified and Capistrano are on our list of districts where candidates in the 2022 elections took positions on race in education/critical race theory, responses to the coronavirus pandemic, or sex and gender in schools. Click here to read more about our project tracking conflicts in school board elections. 

In addition to tracking conflicts in school board elections, we also track instances in which school boards have fired superintendents. Recently, some superintendent dismissals have been related to race in education/critical race theory, responses to the coronavirus pandemic, or sex and gender in schools. 

Here is a list of recent noteworthy K-12 public schools superintendent dismissals:

  • Brevard Public Schools, Florida: On Nov. 22, 2022, the Brevard Public Schools school board voted 3-2 to move forward with terminating Superintendent Mark Mullins’ contract with the district. Mullins agreed to resign. Brevard was on our list of 2022 school board battlegrounds. Candidates Gene Trent and Megan Wright were elected, giving Republicans a 4-1 majority. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R), endorsed Wright. 
  • Sarasota County Schools, Florida: On Dec. 13, the Sarasota County Schools school board voted 4-1 to remove Superintendent Brennan Asplen. Sarasota was on our list of districts where candidates took on a stance on race in education/critical race theory, responses to the coronavirus pandemic, or sex and gender in schools. The November elections changed the partisan composition of the board, with Republicans gaining a 4-1 majority (Democrats had a 3-2 majority before the election). Florida Lt. Gov. Jeanette Nuñez (R) endorsed two Sarasota candidates who won their elections—Bridget Ziegler and Timothy Enos
  • Broward County Public Schools, Florida: On Nov. 14, 2022, the Broward County Public Schools school board voted 5-4 to remove Superintendent Vickie Cartwright. Gov. DeSantis (R) appointed all five members in August 2022. However, on Dec. 13, the board voted 5-3 to rescind the dismissal. Board member Allen Zeman said he voted to undo the firing because the board had promised Cartwright 90 days to address the board’s concerns but had voted to dismiss her before that time had elapsed. Cartwright will face another vote on Jan 24. 
  • Berkeley County School District, South Carolina: On Nov. 15, the Berkeley County School District school board voted 6-3 to remove Superintendent Deon Jackson. In the Nov. 8, 2022, elections, the local county Republican Party endorsed all six board members who voted to remove Jackson. The board also voted 6-2 on the same evening to ban the teaching of Critical Race Theory. 

We’ll have more about this project of tracking superintendent firings in a future edition.

Extracurricular: education news from around the web

This section contains links to recent education-related articles from around the internet. If you know of a story we should be reading, reply to this email to share it with us! 

Take our Candidate Connection survey to reach voters in your district

We’re featuring survey responses from school board candidates who won their races on Nov. 8. 

Today, we’re looking at responses from Linfeng Chen (R), who won in the general election for Howard County Public Schools Board of Education At-large in Maryland, and Diana Hawley, who won election for Cecil County Board of Education District 5 in Maryland.

Here’s how Chen answered the question, “Please list below 3 key messages of your campaign. What are the main points you want voters to remember about your goals for your time in office?”

  • “My vision: A Successful public school system nurtures students’ well-being, creates a sense of belonging and safety, provides every student with necessary resources to succeed.
  • Platform: Commit to quality of public education; Invest in school infrastructure; Prioritize students’ physical and mental health; Promote strength of diversity; Utilize taxpayer money responsibly
  • Better Education for All, Vote for Chen!”

Click here to read the rest of Chen’s answers.

Here’s how Hawley answered the question, “Please list below 3 key messages of your campaign. What are the main points you want voters to remember about your goals for your time in office?”

  • “I will continue to advocate for a responsible budget that allows for safe and functional facilities, student and staff resources (including addressing mental health needs), and smaller class sizes
  • I am a CCPS parent who continues to promote positive parent involvement, curriculum transparency, and productive communication
  • I will continue to work to provide equitable opportunities for ALL students, including the needs of marginalized populations. It is important to continue to work to provide academic rigor, increased early intervention opportunities, and a quality college and career readiness program.”

Click here to read the rest of Hawley’s answers.