Hall Pass: Your Ticket to Understanding School Board Politics, Edition #78

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 the Department of Education 
  • In your district: supporting students with special needs
  • Share candidate endorsements with us! 
  • School board filing deadlines, election results, and recall certifications
  • Federal judge blocks California district’s policy prohibiting officials and teachers from revealing students’ gender identity to parents 
  • Extracurricular: education news from around the web
  • Candidate Connection survey
  • Candidate canvass: survey responses from around the country

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

On the issues: The debate over the Department of Education

The existence and role of the U.S. Department of Education (DOE) have been topics of debate since Congress created the department in 1980. Recently, several Republican presidential candidates, including former President Donald Trump (R), said they would support abolishing the department. This week, we’ll look at arguments for and against keeping the DOE.

Jacqueline Elliott writes that efforts to abolish the DOE are misguided. Elliot says the department has an important role in advancing equal opportunities in education, promoting programs that make American students more competitive internationally, and supporting state and local government educational initiatives.

Roger Simon writes that the DOE is unnecessary and should be eliminated. Simon says education should be handled as locally as possible and should not be subject to federal government control through regulations and conditional grants. He says federal education standards have harmed student learning.

Efforts to eliminate the Education Department are misguided | Jacqueline Elliott, The Daily Press

“There are multiple scholarly goals that easily fit into two categories. The first seeks to strengthen the federal commitment to equal educational opportunity for every individual. The second enables student achievement to prepare them for global competitiveness. It is crucial to understand that the agency supports our state and local educational initiatives. This includes public and private nonprofit research organizations and community-based agencies. … It is time to seriously consider the drastic results of ill-meaning and power-hungry legislators. … Our elected leaders need to understand that codification or elimination of a federal department that directly affects a majority of citizens within a district is not the last word regarding something as important as educating future generations.”

For the Sake of Our Children, Abolish the Department of Education | Roger L. Simon, The Epoch Times

“I don’t know if there’s a more reactionary, superfluous arm of the U.S. government than the Department of Education. … Education should always be done locally, as far from Washington bureaucrats as humanly possible. This local control should avail itself of charter schools and school choice (obviously), homeschooling, and every other form of education that people—largely parents—can devise for the better education of their children to prepare them and the country for the future. … Money becomes an instrument of control, with the government withholding it if you don’t go along with their diktats. … The results of federal control of our children’s education, any federal control—including the egregious Common Core—have been nothing short of horrendous. ”

In your district: supporting students with special needs

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 can districts best support and advocate for students with special needs or disabilities?

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.

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 many of those elections.

Federal judge blocks California district’s policy prohibiting officials and teachers from revealing students’ gender identity to parents 

In previous issues of this newsletter, we’ve offered contrasting perspectives on whether school officials and teachers should notify parents when their child publicly affirms a new gender identity (see here and here, for recent arguments). 

In California, the question has divided district board members, teachers, parents, state officials—and increasingly state and federal judges. 

On Sept. 14, U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California Judge Roger Benitez issued an injunction against the Escondido Union School District, temporarily blocking the district’s 2022 policy prohibiting officials and teachers from alerting parents that their child may be using a new name or set of pronouns. 

President George W. Bush (R) nominated Benitez to the Southern District court in 2003. 

Under the policy, school employees cannot disclose a student’s new gender identity when talking with parents, unless the student has first given their consent. 

Escondido Union School District teachers Elizabeth Mirabelli and Lori Ann West sued the district in April, alleging the policy violates their rights to free speech and freedom of religion. Among others, the suit named all five members of the district board and the five members of the California Board of Education as defendants. 

The Escondido Union School District responded to the lawsuit, saying its policy was rooted in the School Success and Opportunity Act (AB 1266), a state law enacted in 2013 allowing students in public schools to access facilities and participate in activities consistent with their gender identity. In a section of its website answering frequently asked questions about AB 1266, the California Department of Education states: “The right of transgender students to keep their transgender status private is grounded in California’s antidiscrimination laws as well as federal and state laws. Disclosing that a student is transgender without the student’s permission may violate California’s antidiscrimination law by increasing the student’s vulnerability to harassment and may violate the student’s right to privacy.”

Some districts have pushed back against the state Department of Education’s position on AB 1266. Since July, at least seven districts have passed parental notification policies requiring officials and teachers to notify parents when a student uses a new name or pronouns:

As districts have adopted conflicting gender identity policies the last few months, state and federal judges have weighed in—but without settling on a legal consensus. 

On Sept. 7, Superior Court of San Bernardino County Judge Thomas Garza blocked Chino Valley’s parental notification policy in response to California Attorney General Rob Bonta’s (D) lawsuit. Bonta said, “The forced outing policy wrongfully endangers the physical, mental, and emotional well-being of non-conforming students who lack an accepting environment in the classroom and at home.” A hearing is scheduled for Oct. 13. 

Former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) appointed Garza in 2007. 

In July, U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California Judge John Mendez dismissed a parent’s challenge to the Chico Unified School District’s policy of not disclosing a student’s gender identity to parents. Mendez, whom Bush appointed to the court in 2007, wrote school officials “demonstrated a legitimate state interest in creating a zone of protection for transgender students and those questioning their gender identity from adverse hostile reactions, including, but not limited to, domestic abuse and bullying.” 

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. 

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.

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.

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!

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

Candidate canvass: survey responses from around the country

In this section, we feature school board candidate responses to surveys and questionnaires from political organizations, news outlets, or governments. Know of a survey or questionnaire in your area that we’ve missed? Reply to this email to share it with us! 

Washington will hold school board general elections on Nov. 7. Washington is also one of 10 states in which we are covering school board elections in every district. 

Today, we’re going to take a look at two candidates running for the Director District No. 2 seat on the Bellevue School District No. 405 board of directors. The city of Bellevue sits on the other side of Lake Washington from Seattle. 

The excerpts we’re featuring here come from the King County Local Voters’ Pamphlet. The pamphlet, which includes candidate statements, is mailed to registered voters in the county. The Kings County Elections office does not edit the candidate statements.  

Three candidates ran in the Aug. 1 primary—incumbent Carolyn Watson, James VanRosmalen, and Ryan Sugden. Watson and Sugden advanced to the general election, with Watson having won 70.44% of the vote to Sugden’s 17.32%. Watson and Sugden submitted their statements to King County Elections before the primary. 

Carolyn Watson (first elected in 2019)

I am committed to providing the excellent education for which Bellevue is known and doing so in a manner that is equitable. I will continue my commitment to providing a holistic education that balances the academic as well as emotional and mental health needs of all our students, including the most marginalized, and those with special needs, whether visible or invisible.

I began this commitment pre-pandemic and seek another term to continue to ensure our students not only do well but that they thrive. Having worked to select our incoming Superintendent, I look forward to collaborating with our educators and staff towards creative and innovative approaches and ideas.

Read Watson’s full statement here

Ryan Sugden

Equity is an accounting term. It means ownership (as in, “How much equity do you have in your house?”) I intend to give families in District Two ownership in their educational choices.

District Two includes Ardmore Elementary, where I serve on the PTSA. Ardmore is a community of families diverse economically, culturally, and linguistically. The whole Bellevue School District would benefit from hearing this community’s voice on the board. I am running to amplify their voices.

Read Sugden’s full statement here