Hall Pass: Your Ticket to Understanding School Board Politics, Edition #73

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 American history curriculum
  • In your district: Managing policy disagreements between board members 
  • Share candidate endorsements with us! 
  • School board filing deadlines, election results, and recall certifications
  • A comprehensive analysis of South Dakota’s 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:

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. Missed an issue? Click here to see the previous education debates we’ve covered.

The debate over American history curriculum

Today’s topic is K-12 curriculum. In particular, we’ll explore different viewpoints about model curricula from Hillsdale College, a private liberal arts college in Southern Michigan.

Phillip Schwenk writes that Hillsdale College’s 1776 model curriculum is sufficient for teaching a complete story of American history. Schwenk says the curriculum discusses slavery and civil rights in-depth without focusing on race as the primary factor in the country’s history. He says curricula should focus on the ideals of equality and inalienable rights outlined in the Declaration of Independence. 

Erskine White writes that Hillsdale’s model curriculum is insufficient and ignores primary source evidence that undercuts the ideas of equality and inalienable rights in America’s founding. White says American history is complex and that more context is necessary to make history curricula more inclusive and honest.

I am a Black principal. Here’s why I defend Hillsdale College’s 1776 Curriculum. | Opinion | Phillip Schwenk, The Tennessean

“There’s a difference between a curriculum that’s singularly focused on the issue of race and a curriculum that seeks to understand the whole, complete story of American history including the evils of slavery and racism. This curriculum doesn’t try to avoid such topics — indeed, it mentions slavery more than 3,300 times across grades K-12. But the topics of slavery and race shouldn’t be the fundamental and sole elements guiding the teaching of American history. We teach that slavery was an evil practice in America and that the Civil War was fought over the issue. We teach the ensuing civil rights battles that continued long after African Americans were freed from slavery. Yet we also teach about the founding principles of America’s government — that all men are created equal and endowed with certain inalienable rights — which provided the critical basis for the abolition of slavery and paved the way for the successes of the civil rights movement. As a Black man and educator, that last point speaks to the heart of the matter. And it’s an ultimately uplifting, joyful and wonderful message that I look forward to sharing with the students we intend to serve.”

What principal and Hillsdale College 1776 Curriculum defender gets wrong | Letters | Erskine White, The Tennessean

“[Schwenk’s] opening statement, for example, says that the Hillsdale 1776 curriculum does not believe the United States was founded ‘to defend the heinous institution of slavery.’ Yet we know that defending slavery was one factor among others in creating the United States because the Declaration of Independence says it was. After the magnificent ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident…’ credo which everyone reads is the rest of the document which no one reads. There we see 27 specific ‘abuses’ committed by England which justify American independence. The 27th such justification said England had encouraged slave rebellions. This referred to Lord Dunmore’s Decree a year earlier in 1775, which promised freedom to enslaved people who escaped and served the British cause. Tens of thousands did just that, and indeed, there were numerous slave rebellions in America before 1776 as well. It makes sense when you think about it: White Americans were fighting for their freedom; why wouldn’t Black Americans do the same? Primary source evidence for all this and more has been available for centuries, but only in recent years have large numbers of historians dug into those sources to tell a more honest, inclusive and complex national story.”

In your district: Managing policy disagreements between board members 

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.

How should board members address policy disagreements with others on the board?

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 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.

Election results certifications from the past week


As we told you in our previous edition, voters recalled three of the five members of the Richland School District school board in Washington—Audra Byrd, Semi Bird, and Kari Williams—on Aug. 1. The three board members were removed from office after the results were certified on Aug. 15.

Recall supporters said 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.

Following the certification of the results, Educational Services District (ESD) 123, a legislatively-mandated not-for-profit organization that provides services to school districts in Southeastern Washington, began soliciting applications to fill the seat previously held by Bird. Per Washington state law, ESD 123 must appoint one member to the Richland school board so the board meets its three-member minimum quorum requirement to legally conduct business. The deadline to submit applications is Aug. 23. 

According to our database, there have been an average of 34 recall efforts aimed at 80 school board members each year between 2009 and 2022. A total of 220 school board members included in the efforts faced recall elections, and 136 were removed from office. So far this year, there have been 37 efforts against 68 officials. Click here to see more of the school board recall elections we’ve covered. 

Upcoming school board elections


Recall elections against West Bonner County School Board members Keith Rutledge and Susan Brown are being held on Aug. 29. The recall effort began when the board voted 3-1 to reject the curriculum it had previously endorsed because of concerns about social emotional learning. Click here to read the recall petitions and Rutledge’s and Brown’s responses. 

A comprehensive analysis of South Dakota’s school board elections 

Back in May and June, we brought you in-depth reports on school board elections in Wisconsin and Oklahoma, two of the 10 states where we are providing comprehensive school board election coverage in 2023. 

Today, we’ll focus on South Dakota.

Every school district in South Dakota—149 of them—was scheduled to hold school board elections in 2023. However, only 32 districts (21%) held an election. The rest—117 districts (79%)—canceled elections entirely because there weren’t enough candidates to hold a contested election, meaning the number of candidates running was less than or equal to the number of seats up for election.

In the 32 districts that held elections, candidates contested 51 of the state’s 853 school board seats. Registered Republicans won 30 of those contested seats. Registered Democrats won 16, and independent or minor party candidates won five.

Twenty-one of the 51 contested elections were intra-party (41%), meaning they included candidates registered with the same political party. The remaining 30 were inter-party (59%), meaning they included candidates registered with different political parties.

South Dakota’s school board elections are officially nonpartisan, meaning candidates appear on the ballot without party labels. But we used the state’s voter registration file to match every school board candidate with a party, giving us full partisan data across the state.

Worth noting: a person’s party registration status does not necessarily dictate their political beliefs. Still, this level of research can provide additional insights into school board elections.

The chart below shows the overall total of contested elections in terms of seats won by party registration status as well as breakdowns between these different categories of election types:

With voter registration information, we were able to calculate the partisan balance of every school district in the state. You can find that info here.

Of the 16 registered Democrats who won, six won in Democratic school districts–those where Democrats make up a majority or plurality of voters. Ten won in Republican districts.

All 30 Republicans and five independent or minor party winners won in Republican districts.

The map below shows contested school board elections color-coded based on the party registration of the candidate, or candidates, who won there. Each district is further labeled based on whether it is a Democratic (D) or Republican (R) district:

Beyond who won, we also took a look at who lost in these elections, namely the number of incumbents defeated.

Of the 32 incumbents who ran for re-election in contested races in South Dakota, 72% won, and 28% lost. By comparison, between 2018 and 2022, we found that 26% of school board incumbents lost in contested elections nationwide.

Similar to South Dakota, in Wisconsin, we found that 27% of incumbents in contested elections lost. But in Oklahoma, that contested loss rate was much higher: 46% of all incumbents in contested elections lost there this year.

Click on the link below to explore our research into South Dakota’s school board election, including details like open seats, student-to-teacher ratios, and endorsements from outside groups and individuals.

Endorsements in South Dakota school board elections, 2023

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 taking a look at responses from two Virginia school board candidates running in Nov. 7 elections. Melanie Meren is running for re-election in the general election for Fairfax County Public Schools, Hunter Mill District, and Jaylen Custis is running in the general election for Prince William County Public Schools, Woodbridge District. 

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

  • “Educate all children for their own personal success that cultivates their paths beyond school and into adulthood.
  • Fortify our teaching force through appropriate compensation, vital instructional resources and support, and reasonable expectations on teachers’ time
  • Offer safe, human-centered spaces and facilities that inspire learning and create connections among school, community, and the natural environment”

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

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

  • “Safety and Security. We must crack down on drugs and other illegal substances that continue to infiltrate our schools. As well as combating bullying inside our schools, to ensure that students feel safe going and coming home from school.
  • Providing more money to improve the infrastructure inside our schools especially to our older schools on the eastern part of the county. The same issues when it comes to heating and cooling or power outages shouldn’t still be here from when I was in 1st grade. We need someone advocating and bring more funds to our schools.
  • We must increase the standards of education. 65% isn’t a passing grade we have to raise the standards in order to ensure that our students are well prepared and ready to be successful in life in the real world.”

Click here to read the rest of Custis’ answers. 

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 sample ballot.

In the 2022 election cycle, 6,087 candidates completed the survey.