Hall Pass: Your Ticket to Understanding School Board Politics, Edition #102

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 Indiana’s Eyes on Education portal
  • In your district: Preparing citizens 
  • School board filing deadlines, election results, and recall certifications
  • Three school board recalls have centered on district book policies since 2006
  • Extracurricular: education news from around the web
  • Share candidate endorsements with us! 
  • Candidate Connection survey

Reply to this email to share reactions or story ideas!

On the issues: The debate over Indiana’s Eyes on Education portal

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.

Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita’s (R) office launched the Eyes on Education portal on Feb. 6. The portal allows parents to submit curricular materials they believe are inappropriate, political, or illegal for review. 

Rokita writes that the Eyes on Education portal helps prevent political indoctrination in schools and boosts curriculum transparency. He also says the portal provides a platform for teacher complaints about inappropriate curriculum content or political instructional practices.

Jacob Garrett writes that the portal constitutes government overreach and creates opportunities for spiteful or biased parents to use the power of government to publicly shame teachers they dislike or disagree with. Garrett says most submissions to the portal are based purely on political disagreements—not factual inaccuracies or bad instruction.

Attorney General Todd Rokita launches ‘Eyes on Education’ portal to further empower parents | Todd Rokita, Office of the Indiana Attorney General

“As I travel the state, I regularly hear from students, parents and teachers about destructive curricula, policies or programs in our schools. … Our kids need to focus on fundamental educational building blocks, NOT ideology that divides kids from their parents and normal society. The media and schools themselves have continued to deny that this indoctrination is happening here in Indiana, so my office is launching Eyes on Education — a platform for students and parents to submit and view real examples of socialist indoctrination from classrooms across the state. … We not only want to help empower parents … [w]e also want to help empower excellent educators. In some cases, district bureaucrats suppress the conscientious efforts of caring and well-qualified teachers. Our portal is a place where educators, too, can submit examples of materials they find objectionable.”

Todd Rokita’s ‘Eyes on Education’ is assault on public schools | Jacob Garrett, Indianapolis Star

“With the launch of the Eyes on Education portal, Attorney General Todd Rokita continues the governmental assault on public education in Indiana. Taking submissions from the public about content they find objectionable in school curricula and publishing these directly to the government’s website is not only an absurd overreach of the state, but an invitation for spiteful individuals to wield government power to publicly shame and humiliate teachers for their own personal validation. Much of the published material has nothing to do with inaccurate or incorrect information. In fact, upon actually reading submissions, it would appear that not only do those who reported this material do so purely out of political disagreement, but that they do not even seem to understand why the material is being used or in what context.”

In your district: Preparing citizens 

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.

What should schools be doing to prepare students for their roles as citizens? 

Click here to respond!

School board update: filing deadlines, election results, and recall certifications

In 2023, Ballotpedia covered elections for over 9,000 school board seats in more than 3,000 districts across 34 states. We’re expanding our coverage each year with our eye on the more 13,000 districts with elected school boards. 

Upcoming school board elections

In the next 30 days, Ballotpedia will cover school board elections in five states—Alaska, Louisiana, Missouri, Oklahoma, and Wisconsin. All of the elections will take place April 2 except for two special elections we’re covering in Louisiana on March 23.


A special primary for the District 8 seat on the East Baton Rouge Parish School System school board will be held March 23. A special primary is also being held on the same day for the District 7 seat on the Caddo Parish Public Schools school board.

If necessary, general elections will be held on April 27.  

We’ll be back next week with the results of these elections.  

Three school board recalls have centered on district book policies since 2006

In a review of nearly 500 school board recall elections since 2006, Ballotpedia found that three have centered on disagreements over district book or school library policies. Two of those recalls are currently underway, while one began in 2023 and went to a vote in January of this year. 

Ballotpedia maintains a list of school board recalls going back to 2006.  

Disagreements over district book policies, including policies about which books are allowed in libraries and classrooms, have roiled school board elections and board meetings in recent years. School board members have sought to answer the question of what books are appropriate for students—and who should determine those standards.

According to the American Library Association (ALA), an organization that opposes what it describes as efforts to ban books, book challenges in both schools and public libraries have increased in recent years. The ALA documented 4,240 unique book challenges in 2023, a 92% increase over the previous year. In 2022, the ALA said 51% of the 1,269 book challenges it identified were connected to school libraries or schools. A challenge does not mean the book was ultimately removed from shelves.

Not everyone agrees that removing books from libraries is tantamount to a ban. Writing in National Review, Abigail Anthony wrote, “The relevant question is not precisely how many books are banned. Instead, the question is what materials should be available to students. We can — and should — have respectful debates about what content is appropriate for what ages.”

Parents, school board members, advocacy organizations, and even state lawmakers have brought book challenges, but such challenges don’t always fall neatly along partisan or ideological lines. Those calling for districts to remove books from libraries and classrooms have targeted books like Gender Queer, a memoir and graphic novel that deals with LGBTQ issues and sexuality, for explicit imagery, and To Kill a Mockingbird, for racism. 

We’ve covered debates around school library curation in Hall Pass. Click here to read those arguments. 

In what follows, we will briefly examine the three recall campaigns we’ve tracked related to district book policies.

Terri Cunningham-Swanson recall, Nebraska

On Jan. 9, 2024, voters in Plattsmouth Community Schools district in Nebraska recalled Terri Cunningham-Swanson 62.2% to 37.8%. Cunningham-Swanson was first elected in 2022. Recall supporters filed the recall paperwork after Cunningham-Swanson called for a formal review of several books in the school library.

Cunningham-Swanson said the books had “very graphic sexual content. And I do mean graphic. The list of books is on the website, too. Parents can check them out for themselves. Then go to a parent-run website, such as booklooks.org or ratedbooks.org to read the content of these books.”

The board established a committee to review 52 books. On Nov. 14, the committee recommended the removal of one of the 52 books from the library. The board voted 8-1 in favor of the recommendation.

Recall supporter Ryan Michael Whitmore said, “Terri has decided to push an extreme personal agenda that will be a burden on the staff and taxpayers. The agenda is to remove materials that are related to LGBTIA+, showing certain minorities in a positive light and showing Christianity in a negative light.”

Karl Frisch recall, Virginia

In January 2024, Stacy Langton, a parent in the Fairfax County Public Schools district in Virginia, filed a petition to recall Karl Frisch, a board member who has represented Providence District since 2019. In November 2023, Frisch won re-election, and was sworn into office in December on a stack of five books that have been banned or challenged in other districts, including Gender Queer and Flamer

Langton said, “I naively thought that our board might do something to enforce the law and remove the books. Therefore, since Karl wants to continue to distribute pornography to minors, he has demonstrated he is unfit to hold office on the school board.”

At his swearing-in ceremony, Frisch, who serves as the chair of the board, said, “Fairfax County residents want safe and inclusive schools with exceptional, well-compensated educators and equitable access to the rigorous academic and enrichment opportunities every student needs to succeed.”

Frisch has not responded to the recall petition. 

The recall petition must be signed by at least 10% of the people who voted in the last election for the office. The state does not have a time limit for circulating petitions. In the case of a successful recall petition, Virginia does not hold recall elections. Instead, the petition is sent to the circuit court for trial. Virginia allows the following grounds for recall: neglect of duty, misuse of office, or incompetence in the performance of duties when that neglect of duty, misuse of office, or incompetence in the performance of duties has a material adverse effect upon the conduct of the office.

Misty Cox recall, Arizona

On Jan. 9, 2024, Marianna Habern filed a recall petition against Misty Cox, the vice president of the Mingus Union High School District #4 governing board in Arizona.

On Oct. 30, Cox emailed Superintendent Mike Westcott asking him to remove six books from the school library. The list included Queer as a 5-Dollar Bill, by Lee Wind, and The Pride Guide: A Guide to Sexual and Social Health for LGBTQ Youth, by Jo Langford.

Habern’s recall petition stated:

“Misty is putting the district at risk of expensive lawsuits by trying to ban books based on content regarding sexual orientation and is trying to limit the information accessible to students based on her personal political agenda.”

Cox has not responded to the petition. 

Supporters of the recall have until May 8 to collect 2,627 signatures of voters in the district.

Ballotpedia’s recall coverage 

Ballotpedia tracks school board recalls once recall paperwork is filed. Ballotpedia covers recalls in school districts of all enrollment sizes as long as information is available. 

Not every state allows for members of the public to recall school board members. Of the 39 states that allow for the recall of elected officials at some level of government, 23 states allow for the recall of school board members.

Between 2009 and 2023, Ballotpedia identified an average of 35 recall efforts against an average of 81 school board members each year. A total of 19.28% of the school board members included in the efforts faced recall elections, and 10.21% of school board members were removed from office.

Click here to read Ballotpedia’s 2023 year-end recall analysis. 

Click here to learn more about recalls related to K-12 public school book policies.

Extracurricular: education news and numbers 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! 

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!

Take our Candidate Connection survey to reach voters in your district

Today, we’re looking at responses from Alisa Allred Mercer and Mark Clement, both running in school board elections in Utah on June 25.

Mercer is one of three candidates running in the nonpartisan primary for Precinct 1 on the Davis School District Board of Education. Alex Densley and Melanie Mortensen are also on the ballot. Mercer was the only candidate to complete the survey. 

The Davis School District, located north of Salt Lake City in Davis County, is the second largest district in Utah, with an estimated student enrollment of around 74,500 students.

Clement is a member of the Alpine School District, a position to which he was elected in 2023. Clement is one of four candidates running in the primary to represent District 5 on the Alpine School District Board of Education. Alicia Alba, John T. Gadd, and Tracy McMillan are also on the ballot. Gadd and McMillan also completed the survey, and we featured their responses in the Feb. 21 edition of this newsletter. 

 The Alpine School District, located south of Salt Lake City, is the largest district in Utah, with an estimated student enrollment of around 83,500 students. 

Here’s how Mercer answered the question, “What areas of public policy are you personally passionate about?

“Strong schools build strong communities. As your school board member, I envision a district where every student feels valued, supported, and empowered to excel.

I will listen to students, teachers, administrators, parents, and community members. Together we can create strong schools and build a resilient community.” 

Mercer also responded to the prompt: “Tell us your favorite joke.” 

“Q: How do you comfort a grammar teacher?

A: Say… ‘They’re, there, their.’”

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

Here’s how Clement answered the question, “What areas of public policy are you personally passionate about?

“Utah continually ranks near the bottom of states in education funding. I would like to do everything I can to increase teacher salaries and provide improved educational opportunities for our students. I am committed to work with the legislature to make this happen. I spend much of my time during the legislative session meeting with concerned parties to insure that bills are passed with correct information about how they will impact students. I think that this role of working with legislators is one of the most important for school board members.”

Clement also responded to the prompt: “Tell us your favorite joke.” 

“My wife has forbidden me from making any more breakfast puns.

She says if I do, I’m toast. My daughter keeps egging me on, though. She’s such a ham.”

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

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

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

The survey contains more than 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.