Hall Pass: Your Ticket to Understanding School Board Politics, Edition #48

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

In today’s edition, you’ll find:

  • On the issues: The debate over notifying parents about gender transitions in schools
  • In your district: four-day school weeks
  • School board filing deadlines, election results, and recall certifications
  • Oklahoma’s Feb. 14 school board primaries
  • Indiana House education committee approves bill giving districts the option of holding partisan school board elections
  • Extracurricular: education news from around the web
  • Candidate Connection survey

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

On the issues: The debate over notifying parents about gender transitions in schools

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.

State and local policies differ on whether school officials and teachers should notify parents if their child is socially transitioning their gender identity (such as using different pronouns or names) in the classroom.

The Dallas Morning News Editorial Board writes that parents have a right to know if their child is socially transitioning at school. The Board says teachers and administrators should contact child welfare officials if they suspect child abuse related to gender transitions but that risks of abuse do not justify schools keeping information about children from parents.

Michelle Goldberg writes transgender students need privacy and autonomy to discern their gender identities and schools should be safe places for children and teens to experiment. Goldberg says policies requiring schools to inform parents of social transitions can harm transgender students who do not have supportive families. 

Parents of trans kids have a right to know | The Editorial Board, The Dallas Morning News

“Sadly, there are cases in which students may face the threat of abuse at home for disclosing their gender identity. If there is a fear a child could come to harm over information provided to a parent, the school should involve child welfare authorities. That should not stand as a reason to avoid parental disclosure as a matter of policy or practice. It is not abuse for parents to decide to call a child by the name they gave her, or use pronouns that align with her biological sex. … But it is chilling to think that a school would lock a parent out of crucial knowledge about his or her own child. The issue of parental communication is just common sense: Parents have the right to know everything the school knows about their child, from grades to health.”

Trans Kids Deserve Private Lives, Too | Michelle Goldberg, The New York Times

“Teenagers deserve a measure of privacy and autonomy to work out their identities, gender or otherwise, even if some of their choices and decisions seem like bad ideas to the adults in their lives. Right now, through both lawsuits and state laws, so-called parents’ rights advocates are trying to ensure that schools inform families about changes to their children’s gender identities. The most immediate victims of such policies are trans kids who lack supportive families, and who stand to lose a place where they can safely be themselves outside of their homes. But all adolescents should have space, independent of their parents, to experiment with identity in reversible, nonmedical ways. Such policies can also put absurd burdens on school officials.”

In your district: four-day school weeks

School districts 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:

Should districts adopt a four-day school week? 

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

On Feb. 21, Ballotpedia will cover all school board primaries in Wisconsin. In Wisconsin, school board primaries are canceled if the ratio of candidates to seats is less than or equal to 2:1. 

This year, the primaries will feature 149 candidates running for 43 seats in 38 districts. The two candidates with the most votes advance to the general elections.

Some of the districts holding elections include:

Wisconsin’s general school board elections are March 4. We’ll be back with more analysis and a look at the general elections in a future edition.

Oklahoma’s Feb. 14 school board primaries

On Feb. 14, Oklahoma held school board primaries. Oklahoma was the first state this year to hold statewide school board elections. General elections will be held April 4. 

This year, in addition to covering the 200 largest school districts and any overlapping the 100 largest cities, we are also covering all school board elections in 10 states. Those states are: Oklahoma, Colorado, Kansas, Minnesota, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Virginia, Washington, and Wisconsin.

Here’s a bird’s eye view of this spring’s Sooner State school board elections. 

  • All 512 school districts hold annual elections. All districts have at least one seat on the ballot in 2023.
  • Oklahoma’s school board elections are nonpartisan, meaning every candidate appears on the same ballot without party labels.
  • Statewide, 733 candidates ran in 488 districts.  
  • There were 24 districts where no candidates ran. In these districts, the local school board has 60 days from the election date to appoint a new member or call a special election.

On Feb. 14, 27 offices (5% of all those up for election) held primaries, because more than two candidates ran. In those primaries, candidates won outright if they received at least 50% of the vote. Otherwise, the top-two vote-getters advanced to the April 4 general election. 

In another 123 offices (21%), two candidates ran. For these offices, the primary was canceled, and the candidates advanced directly to the April 4 general election.

There are 405 offices (70%) where only one candidate ran. The primary and general elections were canceled, and those candidates won outright.

Across all of Oklahoma’s 512 school districts, men make up 63.65% of school board members, while women make up 31.72% (we could not determine the gender of about 4.63% school board members). There are 4.54 school board members per district.

The 10 largest Oklahoma districts by enrollment are:

  • Oklahoma City Public Schools (35,897)
  • Tulsa Public Schools (35,675)
  • Edmond Public Schools (25,619)
  • Moore Public Schools (24,961)
  • Putnam City Schools (19,652)
  • Broken Arrow Public Schools (19,436)
  • Norman Public Schools (16,289)
  • Union Public Schools (15,815)
  • Mid-Del School District (14,207)
  • Lawton Public Schools (13,679)

The 10 smallest Oklahoma districts by enrollment are:

  • White Oak Public Schools (32)
  • Terral Public School (37)
  • Davidson Public Schools (37)
  • Straight Public Schools (40)
  • Gypsy Public Schools (47)
  • Freedom Public Schools (47)
  • Optima Public Schools (49)
  • Nashoba Public Schools (58)
  • Wickliffe Public Schools (61)
  • Jones Academy (61)

We’ll be back in a future edition to look at Oklahoma’s general school board elections. Learn more about Oklahoma’s 2023 school board elections here.

Indiana House education committee approves bill giving districts the option of holding partisan school board elections

On Feb. 8, the Indiana House Committee on Education voted 6-4 to approve House Bill 1428, which would allow school districts to conduct partisan elections. The bill now goes to the full House. 

In Indiana and 41 other states, state law requires that school board candidates run in nonpartisan elections. Even so, these elections over the last few years have increasingly reflected the conflicts playing out in state and federal politics. In 2022, elected officials and state and local parties endorsed candidates.

Bills like HB 1428 are not unique to Indiana. Legislators in Arkansas, Kentucky, and Montana have, since January, introduced measures to require partisan school board elections. On Jan. 24, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) proposed making school board elections partisan, saying, “the reality is people should be able to run for office how they want to run for office. They have a First Amendment right to do that. They can identify with a party or not.”

Arkansas, Florida, Indiana, and Montana have Republican trifectas, but Kentucky is a divided government—Republicans control the state legislature while a Democrat controls the governor’s office.

HB 1428 would not require partisan school board elections. Instead, it would allow districts to implement partisan elections through one of two mechanisms—a vote from the school board or a referendum process that would leave the decision to voters. Voters would need to collect 500 signatures, or signatures from 5% of voters in the district, to put the choice of partisan elections on the ballot.

Below is an overview of state laws related to partisan school board elections:

  • In 41 states and the District of Columbia, state law requires nonpartisan school board elections.
  • Alabama, Connecticut, Louisiana, and, with some exceptions, Pennsylvania automatically allow partisan school board elections or party labels to appear on the ballot. These four states have a combined 878 school districts and 7,652 elected school board members. That’s about 7% of all school districts in the country.
  • Georgia, Rhode Island, Tennessee, North Carolina, and South Carolina either explicitly allow for partisan or nonpartisan elections or give local authorities enough control over elections to effectively allow the option. These five states have a combined 554 school districts and 3,342 elected school board members.

Some districts in North Carolina and Georgia hold partisan elections while others do not. As of 2018, at least 36 county school districts in North Carolina had adopted partisan elections. According to the Georgia School Board Association in 2021, 109 of the state’s 180 school districts have nonpartisan elections, leaving 71 with partisan elections.   

Tennessee joined Georgia and North Carolina in allowing—but not requiring—districts to hold partisan school board elections on Nov. 12, 2021, when Gov. Bill Lee (R) signed HB9072 into law. The law says candidates can run as the representative of a political party if a county party committee “elects to conduct school board elections on a partisan basis.” In districts holding partisan elections, the law says “political parties may elect to nominate a candidate under party rules rather than by primary election.” 

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

Today, we’re looking at responses from Veronica Rivera, who ran in the Feb. 14 primary for Dibble Public Schools, Seat 3, in Oklahoma, and Shaun Bryant, who is running in the April 4  general election for Raytown C-2 School District Board of Education in Missouri.

Here’s how Rivera 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 want to share my time and talents!

I believe in quality education for current and future students!

I can represent different groups in the community.”

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

Here’s how Bryant 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?

  • “If there are receive policies in place to deal with discipline, but no proactive policies, it’s time to re-write policy.
  • The structure of the school system must imbed opportunities for all students to have leadership roles and contribute their voice. If a kid can do it, why should an adult?
  • The Board itself must re-write some board policies and protocols to increase the trust the community has in it as a whole.”

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