Hall Pass: Your Ticket to Understanding School Board Politics, Edition #76

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
  • Share candidate endorsements with us!  
  • School board filing deadlines, election results, and recall certifications
  • Two school board members recalled in West Bonner County School District, Idaho
  • 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. Missed an issue? Click here to see the previous education debates we’ve covered.

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

Connie Walden writes that gender transitioning is a gradual process of experimentation and self-discovery. Walden says students should be able to tell their parents about their gender identities when they feel comfortable. 

Robert Pondiscio writes that schools do not have the right to keep knowledge, especially information related to a child’s health and well-being, from parents—and that schools will undermine institutional trust if they remove parents from gender decisions.

Should Schools Tell Parents Their Child Identifies as Transgender? | Connie Walden, New York Times

“Trans youth often wait to come out to their parents simply for need of space and time to understand their identities. Transition isn’t a flick of a switch; it’s a complex, gradual, weaving journey of identity. My own transition started in high school. At what stage between my experimenting with makeup now and then to asking specific friends to call me Connie would I have officially, suddenly, socially transitioned? When should I have been robbed of the right to come out to my own family, to decide when to include them in my own process? I recognize the pain of well-meaning parents who feel that their child kept such a large “secret” from them. Yet with transition being a gradual process of experimentation, there is no big secret. There’s only kids slowly figuring out who they are, like all other kids. Maybe the demand of these parents, that their children must treat them as “safe spaces” to be told all, is itself what makes these kids feel unsafe.”

The hill that public education dies on: Transgender policies’ utter contempt for parents | Robert Pondiscio, Fordham Institute

“It will be argued that these policies are rarely enacted, but that’s beside the point. A government-run institution granting itself permission to withhold life-changing information from parents about their own children is both profoundly alarming and a massive overreach. These policies effectively demolish parental authority and allow the state to assume a role for which it has no rightful or reasonable claim. There is simply no credible evidence to support the belief that parents do not have in mind the best interest of their transgender children. … Indeed, there are no words adequate to capture this level of institutional hubris. If teachers in our nation’s public schools wish to restore and maintain Americans’ trust in education, they must be willing to acknowledge a simple fact about their profession: They’re not free agents, not activists or ideologues, but government employees with no reason or right to usurp parental authority. A public education system that ignores or overrules the fundamental role of parents, placing the state in a position of superior authority over children will not be accepted for long. If this is the hill public education chooses to die on, don’t be surprised if it gets its wish.”

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.

Upcoming school board elections

New Hampshire

Fourteen seats on the Manchester School District school board in New Hampshire are up for election this year, with a primary on Sept. 19. The general election is scheduled for Nov. 7. We’ll bring you more about these elections in a future issue. 

November elections

Nov. 7 is the biggest election date of the year, and voters across the country will decide state and local races—including for school boards (subscribe to our Daily Brew newsletter for Ballotpedia’s coverage and analysis of elections up and down the ballot). Throughout the fall, we’ll preview the most interesting and pivotal school board elections happening that day. Let’s step back and take a look at the big picture.

We’re covering school board elections in the following 16 states on Nov. 7:

In seven of those states—Colorado, Kansas, Minnesota, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Washington—we are covering all school board elections on Nov. 7. We’ll be bringing you detailed coverage of those elections.

Two school board members recalled in West Bonner County School District, Idaho

ICYMI, on Aug. 29, voters in the West Bonner County School District in Idaho recalled two school board members—Zone 4 Representative Keith Rutledge and Zone 2 Representative Susan Brown. Rutledge was the board’s chairman and Brown was vice chairman. Rutledge, Brown, and board member Troy Reinbold, who was not included in the recall, comprised a conservative voting bloc on the five-member board. 

Unofficial results from the Bonner County Elections Department showed a 63-37% majority voted in favor of recalling Rutledge, and a 66-34% majority voted in favor of recalling Brown. A majority of voters had to cast ballots in favor of each recall for them to be successful. 

West Bonner County School District is located near the top of the Idaho panhandle. In the 2020 presidential election, Bonner County backed Donald Trump (R) over Joe Biden (D) 63.9% to 33.1%. 

Due to a unique provision in Idaho law, a second condition had to be met for the two members to be recalled: the number of yes votes cast against each member had to be higher than the number of votes cast in favor of that member in the last election. 

At least 245 votes were needed against Rutledge for the recall to be successful, and at least 177 were needed against Brown. Unofficial results showed 762 voters favored recalling Rutledge, and 624 voters supported recalling Brown.

Bonner County Clerk Michael Rosedale said, “The voter turnout was huge. It was almost as if it was a presidential election.”

Rutledge and Brown will stay in office until the recall results are certified on Sept. 7. 

On Aug. 31, the board called a special meeting for Sept. 1, and released an agenda that included items such as “Reorganization of the Board,” “Dissolve Current Board of Trustees,” and “Turn Meeting Over to the Superintendent.” The agenda also included potentially changing Superintendent Branden Durst’s contract to, among other things, allow him to pursue speaking engagements or consulting without the board’s approval. Hours before the special meeting, 1st Judicial District Magistrate Judge Lori Meulenberg issued an injunction that prohibits trustees from making any structural changes to the board until Sept. 7. Priest River Police Chief Drew McLain delivered the injunction to the room where the board had gathered and said the meeting was canceled. 

Board members Margaret Hall and Carlyn Barton said they were not told about the special meeting or the agenda until the evening of Aug. 31 and said “the timing of this meeting is highly inappropriate.” 

Rutledge, Brown, and Reinbold voted to hire Durst in June, while Hall and Barton voted against doing so. Durst is a former Democratic state lawmaker who joined the Republican Party in 2020. Durst ran for state Superintendent of Public Instruction in 2022, losing in the Republican primary. 

On Aug. 16, the Idaho State Board of Education said the district was at risk of violating state law because Durst has not worked in a school full time for at least four years—a requirement for superintendents. The board voted on Aug. 22 to direct Durst to apply for a provisional certificate with the state board that would allow him to continue serving as superintendent. 

The remaining members of the five-member board will have 120 days to appoint replacements to fill the vacancies. After 120 days, the county commissioners can fill them. The appointees will serve out the remainder of the terms, which expire in January 2026.

Here’s a timeline of events that led to the recall election:

  • Brown and Rutledge were first elected to the board in 2021. In June 2022, the board unanimously approved an English Language Arts curriculum from McGraw-Hill. 
  • On Aug. 24, 2022, the school board voted 3-1 to rescind the curriculum because of concerns about social-emotional learning. Brown and Rutledge voted to rescind.
  • In June 2023, community members led by the group Recall, Replace, Rebuild, a local political action committee, launched the effort to recall Brown and Rutledge. Recall supporters had to collect 243 signatures against Rutledge and 180 against Brown to get the recall on the ballot. 
  • On June 30, Bonner County Clerk Michael Rosedale announced the supporters had gathered 337 verified signatures against Rutledge and 243 against Brown, allowing the recall elections to be scheduled.

The petitions against Rutledge and Brown said their vote to rescind the curriculum cost the district money because it had to pay to send the curriculum materials back. The petition also said the two board members didn’t respect the rights of constituents and the views of other board members.

In their official responses, Rutledge and Brown said recall supporters wanted to prevent “the whole country from seeing how a conservative led school district can improve poor educational outcomes and give our children a better chance at actual success.”

Rutledge and Brown are the fifth and sixth school board members recalled this year. From 2009 to 2022, an average of 10 school board members were recalled each year. 

So far this year, Ballotpedia has identified 219 recall efforts against 325 officials. Recalls for 37 officials made the ballot, and 28 were successfully recalled. Recall elections against another 31 officials will occur later this year.

Click here to read our mid-year recall report, which covers recall activity from the start of the year through the middle of June. 

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 candidates facing off on Nov. 7 in the nonpartisan general election to represent the Varina District of the Henrico County Public Schools in Virginia. Voters will decide between incumbent Alicia Atkins, who was first elected in 2019, and Domonique Pervall.  

Atkins received endorsements from the Henrico County Democratic Party and Melissa Dart, a former Henrico County Public Schools school board candidate. As of this writing, we have not identified any endorsements for Pervall. To send us additional endorsements, click here.

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

  • “Mrs. Atkins continues working tirelessly as a servant leader to improve educational opportunities for children, empower others, and be a champion for a better environment with successful outcomes. I’m running for a second term for the Henrico County School Board seat representing the Varina District. Visit aliciaatkins.org to learn more about my campaign, achievements, awards, and other efforts to give back to our communities.
  • Mrs. Atkins firmly believes that all children deserve an opportunity to reach their full potential. She is a mom with a victorious spirit dedicated to public service. As a California Coast University graduate and Highland Springs High School alum, her servant leadership includes (but is not limited to) serving as a Henrico County School Board Member (https://henricoschools.us/school-board/varina-district/), VCU Leadership for Empowerment and Abuse Prevention Trainer, and participating on multiple boards and committees.
  • Donate today to help Mrs. Atkins win the 2023 School Board election. Please donate visiting https://aliciaatkins.org/campaign-2023 or mail your donation to Friends of Alicia Atkins, PO Box 754, Sandston, VA 23150.”

Click here to read the rest of Atkins’ responses.

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

  • “I fight for the youth my voice is a instrument for change and my key focus in making sure the district I represent is successful.
  • I’m not on the sidelines I’m in the game with our youth reassuring each child I’m coach Dominique Pervall fighting for inclusiveness.
  • Remember Pervall for change. I’m on a mission to ensure educational excellence is the blueprint for our 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. 

Click here to read the rest of Pervall’s responses.

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

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.