Hall Pass: Your Ticket to Understanding School Board Politics, Edition #59

Ballotpedia's Hall Pass

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 social transitions in schools 
  • In your district: reading programs
  • Share candidate endorsements with us! 
  • School board filing deadlines, election results, and recall certifications
  • SCOTUS takes up school board member social media case
  • Extracurricular: education news from around the web
  • Candidate Connection survey

Reply to this email to share reactions or story ideas!

On the issues: The debate over notifying parents about social 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.

Jill Filipovic writes that schools should not disclose social transitions to parents. Filipovic says schools should be places where children can safely experiment with their beliefs and establish independence from their parents. Filipovic says a child should be able to socially transition in the same way a child with atheist parents should be able to attend a Christian after-school club.

Luke Berg and Max Eden write that hiding social transitions from parents is both harmful and illegal. Berg and Eden say that affirming a student who identifies with a gender that differs from their biological sex constitutes a psychosocial medical treatment. They say parents understand their children’s best interests and have a legal right to know about medical treatments, including social transitions.

Opinion: The right-wing approach to ‘parents’ rights’ puts kids at risk | Jill Filipovic, CNN

“[I]t is wholly unreasonable to demand that a teenager’s experimentation with identity and belief, so long as that experimentation is not physically dangerous, be disclosed to parents. We shouldn’t make laws – or education policy – with only functional, supportive families in mind. It’s tempting to do that, but life experience tells us that not all kids have the families they deserve and research tells us that trans kids without parental support face a host of mental health risks and other challenges. That combination should give anyone pause before deciding what’s reasonable. … Consider this. Teenagers aren’t yet grownups, but they are in the crucial stages of establishing some independence from their parents, asserting their own identities, forming their own opinions and trying new things. In the hours they are at school, they should find a safe place to do just that, whether that’s the teenager of vegan parents choosing to sample a chicken nugget in the cafeteria or the child of atheists trying out the Christian after-school club or, yes, a teenager who thinks they may be trans trying on a new name and putting on a different wardrobe.”

Schools Must Stop Keeping Trans-Secrets From Parents | Opinion | Luke Berg and Max Eden, Newsweek

“But circumventing parents is neither moral nor legal. ‘Social affirmation’ is not simply ‘being nice.’ When children are involved, it is effectively a medical intervention. Dr. Kenneth Zucker, who for decades led one of the world’s top clinics for gender dysphoria, has written that ‘parents who support, implement, or encourage a gender social transition (and clinicians who recommend one) are implementing a psychosocial treatment that will increase the odds of long-term persistence.’ It’s not hard to see how daily ‘affirmation’ by authority figures that a child is ‘really’ the opposite sex reinforces that belief. Long-term persistence of that belief leads children down a path toward puberty blockers and cross-sex hormones, increasing the odds that the child will be sterilized. It is beyond strange, to say the least, that schools send home permission slips to take children to art museums but refuse to notify parents about a de facto medical intervention. … The dramatic shift away from this traditional moral and constitutional precedent has nothing to do with a dispassionate or scientific analysis of the human good. It is rather the product of a mass propaganda campaign that threatens to label any parent concerned for the mental health of their child a ‘transphobe.’”

In your district: reading programs

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

The following question appeared in last week’s edition of Hall Pass, and we’re featuring it again to give more readers a chance to respond:

Do you think your district is using the best possible reading program?

Click here to respond!

Share candidate endorsements with us! 

As part of our goal to solve the ballot information problem, Ballotpedia is gathering information about school board candidate endorsements. The ballot information gap widens the further down the ballot you go, and is worst for the more than 500,000 local offices nationwide, such as school boards or special districts. Endorsements can help voters know more about their candidates and what they stand for. 

Do you know of an individual or group that has endorsed a candidate in your district? 

Click here to let us know.

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. This year, Ballotpedia is covering elections for approximately 8,750 seats in 3,211 school districts across 28 states—or about 36% of all school boards elections this year. Click here to read more about our 2023 school board coverage. 

Election results from the past week


Lincoln Public Schools, the state’s second largest district by enrollment, held general elections on May 2. Primaries were April 4. Three seats were up for election.

Here are the unofficial results as of May 3: 

According to The Lincoln Journal Star’s Zach Hammack: “With Srivastav’s election, there are now five Democrats and no Republicans on the seven-member school board. Connie Duncan, who was once a registered Republican, previously changed to independent. Current board member Lanny Boswell, a former Republican, is also an independent now.”


A primary for four seats on the Columbus City Schools school board was scheduled for May 2, but the election was canceled after fewer than twice the number of candidates filed per seat. Incumbents Jennifer Adair, Carol Beckerle, and Tina Pierce, and challengers Sarah Ingles and Brandon Simmons, advanced to the Nov. 7 general election. 

Upcoming school board elections


On May 6 (yes, a Saturday!), we’re covering general elections in 58 Texas school districts, including the following with more than 75,000 students:


As part of our expanded coverage in 10 states, we’re covering all school board primary races in Pennsylvania on May 16. All districts in Pennsylvania are holding elections this year, with approximately half of the state’s 4,491 seats on the ballot. Pennsylvania holds school board elections every two years in odd-numbered years. 

We’ll have more information about Pennsylvania’s upcoming primaries in next week’s edition of Hall Pass


Districts in Oregon are holding general elections on May 16. We’re covering elections in the following districts:

SCOTUS takes up school board member social media case

On April 24, the U.S. Supreme Court (SCOTUS) agreed to hear arguments in O’Connor-Ratcliff v. Garnier, a case about whether elected officials who use their personal social media accounts to share work-related content can block people from engaging with their posts. 

In this case, the officials in question were members of the Poway Unified Board of Education, in Poway, Calif. Michelle O’Connor-Ratcliff was first elected in 2014, and then re-elected in 2018 and 2022. T.J. Zane was elected in 2014 and re-elected in 2018. He declined to run for re-election in 2022. Click here to read Zane’s answers in 2018 to our Candidate Connection survey. 

The Poway Unified School District is the 18th largest in California, with an estimated enrollment of 36,500 students.

Before winning election, O’Connor-Ratcliff and Zane had created publicly accessible Facebook and Twitter accounts for their campaigns. They later used those accounts primarily to share district news and events. Each also maintained separate accounts limited to friends and family. O’Connor-Ratcliff and Zane indicated the public accounts were connected to board activity. Zane’s Facebook page, for example, said it was “the official page for T.J. Zane, Poway Unified School District Board Member, to promote public and political information.”

In 2017, O’Connor-Ratcliff and Zane blocked Christopher and Kimberly Garnier, parents to three children who attended Poway schools at the time, who frequently posted comments on the board members’ social media posts. Christopher said, “I utilized the only resource that I had for communication and engagement, through social media.” According to the brief filed on behalf of O’Connor-Ratcliff and Zane, Christopher submitted the same response to 226 of O’Connor-Ratcliff’s tweets and left the same comment on 42 of O’Connor-Ratcliff’s Facebook posts. 

The Garniers sued in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California, alleging the board members violated the First Amendment when they stopped them “from exercising their free-speech and/or government-petitioning rights in a public forum, namely on their public social-media pages.” On Jan. 14, 2021, the district court ruled O’Connor-Ratcliff and Zane violated the Garniers’ First Amendment rights because their social media accounts were effectively public forums: “Defendants continue to block Plaintiffs more than three years after initially doing so. While blocking was initially permissible, its continuation applies a regulation on speech substantially more broadly than necessary to achieve the government interest.” The court said the school board members were initially justified in blocking the Garniers because of the repetitive nature of their comments. 

On July 27, 2022, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court’s ruling, saying, “…we have little doubt that social media will continue to play an essential role in hosting public debate and facilitating the free expression that lies at the heart of the First Amendment. When state actors enter that virtual world and invoke their government status to create a forum for such expression, the First Amendment enters with them.”

O’Connor-Ratcliff and Zane requested SCOTUS take up the case on the grounds that the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit ruled in Lindke v. Freed on June 27, 2022, that James Freed, a Port Huron, Michigan, city manager, had not violated the Constitution when he blocked a critic from his social media account. His account listed his government job and contact information. SCOTUS also agreed to hear arguments in Lindke v. Freed on April 24. 

O’Connor-Ratcliff and Zane presented the following question to SCOTUS: 

“Whether a public official engages in state action subject to the First Amendment by blocking an individual from the official’s personal social-media account, when the official uses the account to feature their job and communicate about job-related matters with the public, but does not do so pursuant to any governmental authority or duty.”

In a brief asking SCOTUS to dismiss the case, lawyers for the Garniers said, “It is enough that the Trustees [O’Connor-Ratcliff and Zane] used their public social media pages as a primary way of interacting with their constituents—something that both California law and PUSD [Poway Unified School District] policy expect school board members to do.” 

Katie Harbath, former Public Policy Director at Facebook and founder and CEO of Anchor Change, an organization that works on tech policy and elections, said the cases raise two questions:

  • “Is there a difference between the right to access information versus the right to engage? For instance, for many platforms, even if you are banned from engaging, you can still see the content. Is that ok? 
  • “How to handle people who disrespectfully engage by spamming or posting hate speech or harassment. There are some narrow guardrails the police and governments can put on protesters. What does that look like online? Is there a difference between what a government official can do versus what a company can do to an official government page? That’s what we are all trying to figure out.”

SCOTUS will likely hear oral arguments in both cases in the fall. 

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 incumbent Michelle Slater and Jennifer Murphy, who are running in the May 6 general election for Northwest Independent School District school board Place 7 in Texas. Slater was first elected in 2021. 

Northwest Independent School District is the 53rd largest school district in Texas, with an estimated enrollment of 25,000 students. 

Here’s how Slater answered the question, “What are the main points you want voters to remember about your goals for your time in office?

  • “Amplify Parental Involvement: Encourage and prioritize parent involvement in their children’s education. This would involve creating opportunities for parents to be active participants in decision-making processes and ensuring that their voices are heard.
  • Uncompromising commitment to educational proficiency: Ensure that our schools are provided an education that fosters academic excellence, critical thinking skills, problem-solving abilities, and creativity for all students.
  • Financial Accountability: Promote responsible expenditure and bond transparency, ensuring that the school district’s budget and finances are transparent to the public. By doing so, we can build trust with the community and ensure that taxpayer dollars are being used effectively and efficiently.”

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

Here’s how Murphy answered the question, “What are the main points you want voters to remember about your goals for your time in office?

  • “I believe in Strong Public Schools.
  • I believe in Safe Learning Environments.
  • I am committed to serving with the highest levels of professionalism and accountability.”

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

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