Hall Pass: Your Ticket to Understanding School Board Politics, Edition #66

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 book restrictions in school libraries
  • Share candidate endorsements with us!  
  • School board filing deadlines, election results, and recall certifications
  • Twenty-three states allow for the recall of school board members
  • 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 book restrictions in school libraries

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.

How should school libraries curate their collections? Should they restrict access to certain materials based on age? 

Ingrid Jacques writes that school libraries should be able to curate materials and prevent students from accessing materials that might not be age-appropriate. Jacques says library curation and age restrictions do not amount to book bans and suggests that accusations of book banning are inaccurate and designed to generate pushback. 

Jonathan Friedman writes that the term book ban accurately describes instances where schools restrict access to certain materials—even temporarily for students like elementary schoolers. Friedman says public institutions should not be able to reduce access to certain ideas and that content restrictions violate students’ First Amendment rights.

Book ban debate plays into deepening divides. Are we either ‘fascists’ or ‘groomers’? | Ingrid Jacques, USA Today

“I realize it’s a lot to ask, but it would be nice if accurate language were applied to these “book banning” disputes. Because let’s be clear: What’s happening at school libraries are not book bans. All the books up for debate are all very much available to anyone who wants them. No one is saying stop publishing them altogether. Rather, the questions revolve around what’s appropriate for elementary or middle school children and whether a book deserves a place on a classroom or school library shelf. If the definition of a book ban were that a library didn’t have the book in its catalog, then 99.9% of all books would effectively be banned. Libraries and bookstores curate what they want to highlight, so it only makes sense that parents would be involved in making selections that reflect their school communities’ values. … Unfortunately, the word ‘ban’ is thrown around to elicit outrage when it’s not justified. That’s what happened recently when a Florida school allegedly ‘banned’ poet Amanda Gorman’s poem ‘The Hill We Climb,’ which has been published as a short book. When the facts came out, however, the story was much less sensational. The book was always still available to middle school students, just with some limits to elementary students. The school has stated that the book remains widely accessible. In other words, much ado about nothing. … This kind of inflated rhetoric ironically does a disservice to the ones this debate is supposed to be about: your kids.”

DeSantis is wrong. Book bans in Florida schools and in other states aren’t a ‘hoax.’ | Jonathan Friedman, USA Today

“Some may not like the potency of the phrase “book ban” and its negative connotations with authoritarian tactics − particularly if books end up only temporarily restricted and are then returned to shelves. But the force of new laws and political pressure from the state is clearly creating a chilled climate for public education. And alarm over threats to free speech is, rightly, sounded not only at the most severe prohibitions, but also at infringements that might have a broader chilling effect on open inquiry and democratic culture: such as the cancellation of a campus speaker or the circulation of a list of prohibited words. The point is not whether one can get a book that has been prohibited in a school at the local library or purchase it on Amazon; it’s about whether someone’s ready access to ideas has been denied or diminished in a public institution and why. As the court noted in Counts v. Cedarville, ‘The loss of First Amendment rights, even minimally, is injurious.’ In a democracy, liberty and free speech require robust protection in the face of cultural and political censors. Protecting students’ freedom to read must be no different. In the face of a growing movement to censor public education, it’s essential that we sound the alarm over book banning in its most insidious forms, especially those propelled by hate and ignorance. If people don’t want to be known as book banners, there’s a simple solution: Stop trying to ban books.”

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. We’re gradually expanding the number we cover with our eye on the more than 13,000 districts with elected school boards.

Election results from the past week

We covered school board elections in some South Dakota districts on June 20. Districts included:

  • Clark School District
  • Hanson School District
  • Burke School District
  • Britton-Hecla School District
  • Tea Area School District
  • Watertown School District

In South Dakota, districts schedule their own elections between April and the end of June. We are covering all school board elections in South Dakota this year. 

Upcoming school board elections


Washington is holding school board primary elections on Aug. 1. We’re covering elections in the following districts:

Twenty-three states allow for the recall of school board members 

Ballotpedia will soon publish our mid-year recall report on recall election efforts at all levels of government—including school boards. Today, in anticipation of that report, we’ll take a look at the rules governing school board recall elections, review the historical trends around school board recalls, and run through some of the recall efforts we’ve been following this year. 

School board recalls: the nuts and bolts

Thirty-nine states allow for the recall of elected officials at various levels of government. Twenty-three of those states allow for recalls of school board members. 

The laws for school board recalls differ from state to state. Typically, petitioners must deliver documents to the city or county election office and sometimes to the members they are seeking to recall as well. These documents usually include the reasons petitioners believe the official is unfit for office and initial signatures from supporters of a recall election. If a petition is approved, recall supporters must gather a set number of signatures from district residents to force a vote.

The number of signatures required to get a school board recall on the ballot varies by state. Common factors for calculating the signature requirement include the size of the board member’s jurisdiction and the number of votes cast in a previous election. In all but one of the states, recall elections are held if enough signatures are collected. Virginia is the exception. If enough signatures are collected in that state, a trial is held at the circuit court level, in which a judge weighs evidence and decides whether to allow a recall effort to proceed.

Six of the states that allow school board recalls require specific grounds to be met in order for a recall effort to move forward, such as malfeasance or misfeasance in office:

  • Alaska
  • Georgia
  • Kansas
  • Montana
  • New Mexico
  • Washington

The amount of time recall petitions can circulate also varies by state. Georgia, Nebraska, and North Carolina have the shortest petition circulation time with 30 days. Washington has the longest with 180 days. New Mexico, Tennessee, and Virginia do not have a time limit for petition circulation.

Historical trends

Between 2009 and 2022, we tracked an average of 34 recall efforts against an average of 80 school board members each year. 

In 2021, school board members faced more recalls than other types of officeholders for the first time since our tracking began. Previously, city council members faced the most recalls. 

In 2022, we tracked 250 recall efforts against 419 officials throughout the year, with city council members once again leading the list. Although school board members were the objects of more recall efforts in the first half of the year, they finished the year second to city council members. A total of 167 city council or town board members faced recall campaigns in 2022, while 114 school board members faced recall campaigns.

2023 recall elections

We’ll bring you more information about this year’s school board recalls when we release our report. For now, here’s a look at a few of the recall efforts we’re following this year. 

Richland School District recall, Washington

Recall elections against three of the five members of the Richland School District school board in Washington are being held on Aug. 1. M. Semi Bird, Audra Byrd, and Kari Williams are on the ballot.

Recall supporters said that the board members violated the Open Public Meetings Act; violated district policies, procedures, and code of ethics; and voted to make masks optional while a statewide mask requirement was in place. All three board members denied any wrongdoing. Williams said that she believed no laws were broken when the board voted to make masks optional. She said the board received medical and legal advice before voting and the state’s mask requirement ended a few weeks later.

The Benton County Superior Court approved the recall petitions for circulation on May 11, 2022. The three members filed an appeal with the Washington Supreme Court. The state supreme court ruled on Feb. 9, 2023, that four of the recall charges were factually and legally sufficient, allowing the petitions to be circulated.

Orange Unified School District recall, California

An effort to recall two of the seven members of the Orange Unified School District Board of Education in California began in May 2023. The notices of intent name Trustee Area 4 representative Madison Klovstad Miner and Trustee Area 7 representative Rick Ledesma.

The effort started after the board voted 4-3 in a special meeting on Jan. 5 to fire Gunn Marie Hansen, the district’s superintendent, and place Cathleen Corella, the district’s assistant superintendent of education, on paid leave pending a curriculum and academic audit. We covered Hansen’s dismissal in the Jan. 18 edition of this newsletter. 

Ledesma and Miner voted in favor of the superintendent’s firing along with John Ortega and Angie Schlueter-Rumsey. The board did not give a reason for the decision. In the same meeting, the board appointed Edward Velasquez as interim superintendent and Craig Abercrombie as assistant superintendent.

Recall supporters said the board did not provide any notice that it intended to fire Hansen, and that both Hansen and Corella were on vacation when the meeting was called. Supporters also said the board did not give any reason for the firing and did not have a plan in place for what to do next. 

We have not identified a public response to the recall effort as of this writing. 

To get the recalls on the ballot, supporters must file 13,046 signatures per board member with the Orange County Registrar of Voters. The signatures against Miner are due on Nov. 9, 2023, while the signatures against Ledesma are due on Nov. 13.

Click here to read more about school board recall efforts.  

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

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. 

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

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 appear in our mobile app, My Vote Ballotpedia.
In the 2020 election cycle, 4,745 candidates completed the survey.