Campaign for initiative to allow municipalities to create school districts submits signatures in Nevada

In Nevada, a campaign supporting an initiative that would allow municipalities to opt-out of county school districts filed about 220,000 signatures to counties for verification.

The Community Schools Initiative PAC filed the initiative, and the signatures submitted will have to be verified by county clerks. The initiative needs 140,777 valid signatures to proceed to the state legislature. If the legislature approves the initiative, and the governor signs it into law, the initiative is enacted. If this does not happen, the initiative will go before Nevada voters at the 2024 general election.

The Community Schools Initiative PAC stated, “Nevada school districts are some of the largest in size, too bureaucratic, and unresponsive. It’s time to return our public schools back to the community and give students the education they deserve.”

If enacted, the initiative would amend state statute to allow municipalities to opt-out of a county school district to create a new community school district, which the Community Schools Initiative campaign says may better serve students. 

“Individual municipalities or municipalities working together may, in some instances, prefer to form more appropriately-sized school districts, because communities may determine that they can better represent and serve children, parents, and families in smaller administrative units,” the initiative reads.

Jess Jara, the superintendent of the Clark County School District, which serves 300,000 students, says that the initiative may not address the needs of students. 

“If anything is to change, Nevada must provide more funding and academic rigor to improve educational outcomes,” said Jara,  “Educating our students adequately requires an honest, reasoned, equitable, accountable, and sustainable strategy supported with optimal funding for the new pupil-centered funding formula to produce outcomes other than Nevada’s current 49th in the nation funding levels. This initiative achieves none of these.”

Nevada counties have until December 23 to certify the submitted signatures. If the initiative has at least 140,777 verified signatures, it will go to the Nevada State Legislature in 2023. If no action is taken in 40 days, the initiative will be put on the 2024 ballot.

Pilot program for New York City’s Asian American and Pacific Islander history curriculum launches for the 2022-2023 school year

A pilot program of New York City’s Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) history curriculum was launched in select schools in September 2022. The New York City Department of Education announced in May 2022 that it had developed the curriculum, titled the Hidden Voices Project, in partnership with the Museum of the City of New York. The new curriculum will be widely implemented throughout the city in 2024 for all grades. 

The curriculum aims to teach students to “learn about and honor the innumerable people, often ‘hidden’ from the traditional historical record, who have shaped and continue to shape our history and identity.” K-12 curriculum guides for the Hidden Voices Project are available on the NYC Department of Education website to assist teachers with implementing the new area of instruction. 

David Banks, Chancellor of the New York City Department of Education, said, “We want each child to be heard and seen for who they are, to feel deep in their bones that they are respected and important,” according to Chalkbeat New York.  

State Sen. John Liu (D) has introduced legislation that, if passed, would require all New York public schools to include Asian American history in K-12 curriculum.  

Additional reading:

New Jersey incorporates climate change into K-12 curriculum standards for public schools

New Jersey became the first state to incorporate climate change into K-12 curriculum standards at the start of the 2022-2023 school year. The State Board of Education first announced that they would adopt the new curriculum standards in June 2020, after the curriculum changes were initiated by New Jersey First Lady Tammy Murphy. The updated standards aim “to prepare students to understand how and why climate change happens and the impact it has on our local and global communities as well as to act in informed and sustainable ways.”

The state board is responsible for updating the state’s curriculum standards every five years. The board establishes required curriculum standards that local districts must adhere to and provides recommendations to assist local districts in implementing the curriculum. New Jersey school districts can find resources for teaching climate change on the New Jersey Climate Education website.  

Governor Phil Murphy (D) wrote on Twitter on September 6, 2022, “Our children are our future, and the lessons New Jersey students will learn with this new curriculum will bring us one step closer to building our green economy and reaching and sustaining 100% clean energy by 2050.”

Additional reading:

Texas school district limits discussions of race and gender, pronoun use, and certain books

The Grapevine-Colleyville Independent School District in Texas on August 22, 2022, approved a policy by a 4-3 vote that would limit classroom discussions of race and gender, pronoun use, and certain library materials. 

The approved policy:

  • Allows educators to use pronouns that align with a student’s biological sex rather than their gender identity
  • Prohibits transgender students from using bathrooms that align with their gender identity
  • Bars teachers from including political advocacy in their curriculum and awarding students academic credit for political activism
  • Forbids K-5 students from engaging in classroom discussions regarding sexual orientation, gender identity, and race
  • Permits school board members and parents to oppose library materials 
  • Authorizes the school board to not have to reconsider banned books for at least a decade

In support of the policy, board member Casey Ford said, “These policies are the product of input from several groups — the board’s policy committee, the district’s attorneys, the board’s attorneys, a committee of administrators and principals and, most importantly, community members.”

Mike Sexton, a parent in the school district, disagreed with some of the board members. Sexton said, “You can talk about Santa Claus, but you can’t talk about gay people to fifth graders. This is incredible — you’re acting like people don’t exist. There’s thousands of people in this district that are LGBTQ, that live here, that are taxpayers,” according to the Texas Tribune.

Additional reading:

Texas State Board of Education discusses changes to the state’s social studies curriculum

The Texas State Board of Education began discussing proposed changes to the state’s social studies curriculum in a meeting on August 1, 2022. The board aims to make changes and guide educators on how to teach U.S. history while aligning the curriculum with Senate Bill 3. The law, which went into effect in December 2021, prohibited teaching concepts such as promoting ideas that, according to the bill, “one race or sex is inherently superior to another race or sex” and that “an individual, by virtue of the individual’s race or sex, is inherently racist, sexist, or oppressive, whether consciously or unconsciously.”

The state board is responsible for updating the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) curriculum standards every eight years. The board aims to revise the social studies curriculum to ease educators’ concerns about how to teach the subject while adhering to the new law. 

Sen. Bryan Hughes (R), who authored Senate Bill 3, spoke to the board to offer guidance on implementing the law into the curriculum. Hughes told the board that the “bill is not an attempt to sanitize or to teach our history in any other way than the truth – the good, the bad and the ugly – and those difficult things that we’ve been through and those things we’ve overcome.” He added that, “No one is saying that we don’t have systemic racism. But what we’re saying is, we’ve made a lot of progress. We have a long way to go. But the way to get there is to come together as Americans,” according to The Texas Tribune.

State Board of Education member Aicha Davis (D) argued that Senate Bill 3 has been damaging to the public school system and stated, “We always talk about teachers leaving in droves and this was one of the reasons.” She responded to Hughes’ guidance on aligning curriculum with the law by saying, “Teachers were literally scared to teach even the TEKS that existed because of this,” according to The Texas Tribune

The proposed curriculum updates are available for review on the Texas Education Agency’s website and are open for public comment. The Texas State Board of Education will vote on proposed changes to the curriculum in November. 

Additional reading:

Parents sue Tennessee school district over curriculum including race and gender topics

A parent group on July 8, 2022, filed a lawsuit in the Twenty-First Judicial District against Tennessee education officials and the Williamson County school district for allegedly violating state laws restricting teachings on race and gender.

Tennessee House Bill 580 aims to prohibit school districts from incorporating materials into the curriculum that portray the United States as racist or sexist, or that make students feel uncomfortable because of their race or sex. Parents’ Choice Tennessee, the parent group, claims the school district’s English/language arts curriculum contains what the group considers to be age-inappropriate material that discusses topics of race. The group is seeking for the school district to permanently remove the curriculum. 

Trisha Lucente, a plaintiff in the lawsuit and the founder of Parents’ Choice Tennessee, said that she would prefer a “true English Language Arts curriculum that teaches phonics, classical literature, and is free of any politics or political agenda,” according to Education Week.

Jennifer Cortez, co-founder of an organization that advocates for students of color in the school district, disagreed with  Lucente’s claims by sharing, “[m]y daughter went through these Civil Rights modules and didn’t feel one ounce of white guilt about it. She just felt sad that that happened. Meanwhile, our students of color are dealing with actual harassment.”

The case was pending before Tennessee’s Twenty-First Judicial District as of August 5, 2022. Tennessee as of 2021 was one of 17 states that had imposed restrictions on curriculum material in public schools concerning topics such as race, gender, and sexual orientation.

Additional reading:

Hawaii lifts last statewide school mask requirement in the nation

On August 1, 2022, Hawaii lifted its statewide school mask requirement, making it the final state in the nation to do so. The Hawaii Department of Health announced the change on July 12.

Thirty-five states required masks in schools at some point since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Some requirements specifically covered schools, while others were by-products of a general statewide mask requirement. 

Maryland and Washington were the first states to issue school reopening guidance requiring masks in schools, both on June 10, 2020. Both requirements ended in March 2022.

Hawaii’s school mask requirement was the longest in the nation, lasting from July 15, 2020, to August 1, 2022. North Dakota had the shortest statewide school mask requirement. It lasted from November 14, 2020, to January 18, 2021.

Nine states have banned school mask requirements, five of which had previously required masks in schools. Arkansas’ ban was the first to take effect on April 28, 2021. The ban was later suspended by court action on Sept. 30, 2021. 

The most recent ban took effect in Iowa on May 16, 2022. The state had initially instituted the policy on May 20, 2021, but parts of the ban were temporarily suspended by court action after its passage.

Additional reading:

School responses to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic during the 2020-2021 academic year

State-level mask requirements in response to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, 2020-2022

Republican-led states sue Department of Agriculture over nondiscrimination school meal guidance

Tennessee Attorney General Herbert Slatery (R), joined by 21 Republican attorneys general, filed a lawsuit on July 26, 2022, in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Tennessee that aimed to overturn guidance from the Biden administration and the Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Food and Nutrition Service. The guidance expanded Title IX to prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. The directive also compelled state and local agencies receiving federal funds from the Food and Nutrition Service, including the national school lunch program, to align with nondiscrimination policies. Twenty-two Republican-led states (Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, and West Virginia) joined in the lawsuit.

The attorneys general argued that the USDA’s directive exceeded statutory authority and violated the Administrative Procedure Act by enacting a legislative rule without providing an opportunity for public comment. They also contended that the guidance interfered with the states’ right to enact legislation. The directive for states to adopt such nondiscrimination policies in schools contradicts state law in several states.

Slatery argued, “This case is, yet again, about a federal agency trying to change law, which is Congress’ exclusive prerogative.” He added, “The USDA simply does not have that authority. We have successfully challenged the Biden Administration’s other attempts to rewrite law and we will challenge this as well,” according to The Associated Press.

Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack released a statement in May regarding the USDA’s guidance, stating that, “USDA is committed to administering all its programs with equity and fairness, and serving those in need with the highest dignity. A key step in advancing these principles is rooting out discrimination in any form – including discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.”

The Food and Nutrition Service and the Department of Agriculture had not responded to the lawsuit as of July 29, 2022. 

Additional reading:

Administrative Procedure Act

Herbert H. Slatery

U.S. Department of Agriculture

Mellen School District votes to prohibit race from being discussed during American history lessons

The Mellon School Board in Wisconsin voted on April 20, 2022, to adopt a new policy to prohibit race from being discussed during American history lessons. This decision follows a vote in March that barred subjects such as critical race theory, religion, sexual orientation, privilege, empathy, and political orientation from being taught in classrooms. 

The school board’s new policy adopted its language following survey responses from parents. Besides barring discussions of race during history lessons, the new policy states that gender and sexual orientation can be discussed using only what is described as fact-based information rather than theory or discussion. Teachers are allowed to address topics such as privilege but cannot discuss race when doing so. Similarly, educators may talk about equity but are prohibited from mentioning race, sexual orientation, or gender identity.

According to the survey conducted by Mellen School District, 72% of responders opposed teaching sexual orientation; 73% opposed teaching gender identity; 66% opposed teaching critical race theory, and 68% opposed teaching white privilege. Conversely, 64% of responders support teaching empathy, 58% supported teaching inclusion, and 56% support teaching anti-racism.

Eight teachers submitted a letter to the board against the new policy. They argue the policy will deprive students of the opportunity to practice the reasoning and communication skills necessary to develop and defend their own opinion regarding these topics, according to the Ashland Daily Press

Hall Pass: Your Ticket to Understanding School Board Politics, Edition #5

Welcome to Hall Pass. This newsletter keeps you plugged into the conversations driving school board politics and governance. Each week, we bring you a roundup of the latest on school board elections, along with sharp commentary and research from across the political spectrum on the issues confronting school boards in the country’s 14,000 school districts. We’ll also bring you the latest on school board elections and recall efforts, including candidate filing deadlines and election results.

In today’s edition, you’ll find:

  • On the issues: School discipline policies 
  • School board filing deadlines, election results, and recall certifications
  • Primary preview: Nebraska’s State Board of Education May 10 primaries
  • Candidate Connection survey

On the issues

In this section, we curate reporting, analysis, and commentary on one of the issues school board members deliberate when they set out to offer the best education possible in their district.

The debate over school discipline policies

In recent years, debate has taken place among school board members, scholars, and advocacy groups about school discipline policies.

Below, Heather Cunningham, an Assistant Professor of Education at Chatham University, writes that schools should move away from systems of discipline that tend to punish students for mistakes. Cunningham says systems that often suspend or expel students for misbehavior are systemically racist. She says new systems of discipline should pull students closer to helpful resources instead of pushing them out of schools.

Max Eden, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, writes that more attention should be paid to student experiences under less-punitive discipline systems. Eden says less-punitive discipline systems in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, did not reduce student arrests and contributed to lower math achievement in middle schools and predominantly Black schools. 

Restorative Discipline: Classroom Management for Equity and Justice | Heather Cunningham, writing at Green Schools National Network

“Educators who want to work against the systemic racism found in their school’s punitive discipline system can consider a different framework for classroom management and building school culture. Using practices rooted in restorative discipline is a promising way to do this. Restorative discipline is an approach to classroom management rooted in restorative justice philosophy. This philosophy advocates that schools should be places where young people are able to make mistakes, reflect upon and learn from these mistakes, and correct them as they continue to learn and grow. In terms of academics, U.S. schools have embraced this growth mindset idea. Students are expected to make mistakes on assignments, receive feedback from their teachers, learn from their errors, and continue to grow.”

Restorative justice isn’t working, but that’s not what the media is reporting | Max Eden, writing at The Thomas Fordham Institute

“Last week, the first randomized control trial study of ‘restorative justice’ in a major urban district, Pittsburgh Public Schools, was published by the RAND Corporation.

The results were curiously mixed. Suspensions went down in elementary but not middle schools. Teachers reported improved school safety, professional environment, and classroom management ability. But students disagreed. They thought their teachers’ classroom management deteriorated, and that students in class were less respectful and supportive of each other; at a lower confidence interval, they reported bullying and more instructional time lost to disruption. And although restorative justice is billed as a way to fight the ‘school-to-prison pipeline,’ it had no impact on student arrests. The most troubling thing: There were significant and substantial negative effects on math achievement for middle school students, black students, and students in schools that are predominantly black.”

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 all of the roughly 14,000 districts with elected school boards.

States with school board filing deadlines in the next 30 days 

March 18

March 22

Upcoming school board elections

We’re covering one school board recall election in the next 30 days. The March 29 recall is against Tim Stentiford, one of the 12 members of the Regional School Unit 21 school board in Maine. Recall supporters listed a loss of teachers in the district, increased spending on human resources, and the lack of a school board curriculum committee as reasons for the recall.

Districts in the following states will hold general school board elections on April 5:

  • Alaska
  • Arkansas
  • Oklahoma
  • Missouri
  • Wisconsin 

We’ll bring you more on those elections in future editions. 

School board candidates per seat up for election

For the 201 school board races we are covering whose filing deadlines have passed, an average of 2.2 candidates are running for each seat.

Primary preview: Nebraska’s State Board of Education May 10 primaries

On May 10, voters will decide primaries for four of the State Board of Education’s eight nonpartisan seats. The Board’s statewide health education standards, first proposed in March 2021, have figured prominently in the runup to the primaries. 

In March 2021, the Board released a draft of proposed statewide health education standards that, according to the Scottsbluff Star-Herald, “would have taught about sexual orientations, identities and activities to children who were in elementary school.” A number of parents, and Gov. Pete Ricketts (R), have criticized the non-binding standards.

The Board released a revised draft in July that removed “many references to sexual identity, sexual orientation, gender identity, roles and stereotypes.” OutNebraska, an organization whose mission is to “empower, celebrate and grow LGBTQ+ communities in Nebraska,” said “This erasure does nothing to protect LGBTQ+ students. The fact that LGBTQ+ people exist should not be controversial.” Ricketts said that although the revised draft was an improvement over the first, the standards “still need improvement.”

In September, the Board voted to shelve the proposed standards. 

Board member Robin Stevens, who is running in the Seat 7 primary on May 10, was one of the five who voted to stop development of the standards. 

Stevens, who assumed office in 2019, said, “I want people to know that there has never been a vote by the state board to either approve or disapprove the proposed health standards … I felt like the language that was used in parts of the health standards was too raw and therefore inappropriate.”

Stevens faces two challengers: Pat Moore and Elizabeth Tegtmeier

Moore is a pastor who has emphasized local control of education decisions. In response to a question on Ballotpedia’s Candidate Connection survey Moore said,  “Comprehensive sex education and Critical Race Theory concepts need to be removed from education in Nebraska.” 

Tegtmeier, a former public school teacher, said, “The board became so wrapped up in activist causes that attempted to indoctrinate our children that they neglected their duty to our local school districts.” Tegtmeier said she “promises to protect Nebraska’s children from harmful ideologies that promote racially divisive ideas and inappropriate sexual content.” 

Gov. Pete Ricketts (R), Lt. Gov. Mike Foley (R), several Republican state senators, and several county Republican parties endorsed Tegtmeier. 

All three Seat 7 candidates are Republicans.

Members are elected to four-year terms in nonpartisan elections. Four of eight seats are up for election this year. Three incumbents are running in 2022. One other incumbent, Democrat Deborah Neary, faces a primary with two challengers for the District 8 seat. The District 5 and District 6 seats saw two candidates file a piece, meaning the candidates will skip a primary and face off in the November general election.

The State Board of Education’s responsibilities include oversight and supervision of the state’s K-12 public schools.

San Francisco Mayor appoints new school board members

On March 11, San Francisco Mayor London Breed appointed Ann Hsu, Lainie Motamedi, and Lisa Weissman-Ward to the San Francisco Unified School District school board, filling vacancies caused by a Feb. 15 recall election. 

San Francisco voters recalled Gabriela López, Alison Collins, and Faauuga Moliga. Recall supporters said they were frustrated that schools in the district remained closed for nearly a year in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and upset the board spent time voting to rename 44 buildings in the district rather than trying to reopen schools. 

In the aftermath of the election, López said, “None of this is a surprise. We’ve been threatened of a recall, maybe even six months into our term because of what we were highlighting. What we were bringing up. What we were challenging. The issue that I am pointing to is when that comes from people of color, primarily women of color, that is enough of a problem to silence us. How they achieved that was through a recall.”

The group behind the recall effort published a list of 21 potential candidates. Hsu and Motamedi were on that list. Siva Raj, who co-led the recall effort, said, “I think the next year is going to be critical for the school district. We have so many issues to deal with firstly a new superintendent to hire, there’s a learning loss, there’s also the budget crisis that we need to solve.”

The new board members will stand for election in November 2022. 

Read our coverage of the San Francisco Unified School District recall here

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 2020 election cycle, 4,745 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 populate the information that appears in our mobile app, My Vote Ballotpedia.

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!