You may know that early voting began on Friday, September 22, 2023. To help you navigate school board election season in Virginia, 4 Public Education is offering a webinar on October 4th–register here.
What you may not know is that every school board position is on the ballot in Chesterfield, Fairfax, Henrico, Loudoun, and Prince William counties. In many cases, these races are tight, but they are also highly contentious, particularly after three years of “culture wars,” that have led to divided communities, the undermining of public education, and even school board parking lot conflict!
In the middle of these conflicts over personalities, ideology, and policy, it feels like students and educators are forgotten while “parents’ rights” are being used as a red herring by candidates--if you are not sure what we mean, read our blog on the subject!
This is quite evident when one looks closely at the platforms of some of the school board candidates. Although you may think that all candidates are running for a low-paying, high pressure, professional job “for the children,” it becomes patently obvious that some are clearly in it for the politics, which is concerning for a supposedly nonpartisan position that controls millions or billions of dollars and has such an impact on hundreds of thousands of minor children and their families.
School Board candidates are not even identified by party on the ballot. So, how is any busy voter to choose among candidates, outside of accepting a sample ballot from your party of choice? School Board Voting 101 guidelines below will help you pick school board member(s) who will focus on students over politics. On or before November 7th, choose a school board candidate who:
1) Has appropriate education and/or experience in K-12 public education. For example:
Are they an educator or public school teacher?
What sorts of education experience do they have? Bonus points if they have worked directly in a school or school-based organization and/or with students and teachers.
2) Has worked to make public education better for all students and families. For example they:
Employ student-focused plans.
Have a workable plan to recruit and retain teachers.
Have a plan to improve teacher compensation, training, and environment.
Do not support efforts to defund public schools (e.g., public funds to private institutions, vouchers, “funds follow the student,” etc.)
Support inclusion, diversity, and opportunity.
3) Understands and will adhere to the regulations and policies of the school board. Rule-breakers need not apply.
4) Maintains evidenced-based policy positions, instead of relying solely on political opinion or disinformation.
5) Uses inclusive language regarding students. For example:
Does not target or misrepresent student groups based on race, ethnicity, income, language, religion, disability, gender, gender identity, or immigration status.
Recognizes the intersectional nature of students and their identity. E.g., A student may both have a disability and a need for advanced classes.
6) Is honest and ethical, which means no serious ethical or criminal violations in their past. They should have no serious red flags in their recent history, including:
7) Has a professional and respectful demeanor that sets a decorous standard for the district. Shows respect toward those with whom they agree and disagree.
8) Has an ability to work as a team toward consensus on decisions. Lone wolves and authoritarians need not apply.
School boards across the country, from Newberg, OR to Spotsylvania County, VA, have been invaded by those who do not have the best interest of students and teachers in mind. If you don't believe it, read the stories of anguished families watching their public schools devolve in to chaos as newly elected officials use schools to wage battles over funding, truth in history, transgender students, and libraries.
To make the best choice at the ballot box, heed the advice of a current school board in Spotsylvania County:
[You] have to get to know who is running. Talk to people to find out where they honestly [stand on policy and education]. Ask the hard questions about public education. What would you do with X or Y. How are you going to support kids and staff?
- Dawn Shelley
Before you vote: do your research and ask questions. Then choose your school board members wisely.