Ten of the 16 candidates vying for Frederick County School Board seats answered questions about their platforms at two forums on Wednesday and Thursday nights.
The League of Women Voters of Frederick County hosted the Q&A sessions virtually. Four candidates were present on Wednesday and six on Thursday.
League members asked questions that touched on long-standing debates in education policy, such as class size, budget, and college versus career readiness.
They also asked about topics more specific to Frederick County public schools, such as a recent U.S. Justice Department investigation into the district’s misuse of seclusion and restraint against students with disabilities.
Each candidate had 60 seconds to answer most questions. They did not all answer the same questions.
Below is a sample of the responses from each of the 10 contestants who participated. The video of each of the full forums is available on the League’s Facebook page.
• At the service of students who are not linked to the university: holder Liz Barrette said the board should consider establishing public-private partnerships that would allow students to gain work experience. The district’s career and technology center is overcrowded, she said. She pitched the idea of a partnership with Frederick Health for students interested in laboratory science.
• On plans for hiring and retaining competent and diverse employees: David Brooks said the district should focus on skills rather than race or ethnicity. “I hope I was never chosen [for a teaching job] because I’m black,” Brooks said. He said FCPS should increase its salary to better compete with neighboring jurisdictions.
• On serving English language learners, who perform less well academically than their peers: pink dean said FCPS should partner with community organizations to help care for these students before and after school. “We need to look to our community to help us provide comprehensive services to help these children, so that when they come to class they are ready to learn,” Rose said.
• On the district’s approach to race and racism: incumbent Karen Yoho said it was important to keep teachers informed without overwhelming them with training. “I’m so distressed that ‘fairness’ is, in some circles, becoming a dirty word, and I don’t understand it at all,” she said. “We have to look at everything we do through that lens.”
• On preparing for a possible resurgence of COVID-19 cases: ysela bravo said the FCPS should make clearer plans for “what the numbers mean what” for potential changes in virus policy. “One of my issues with FCPS is the lack of communication,” she said.
• On the two most pressing issues facing FCPS: Rae Gallagher talked about staffing and student resources. She said the board needs to focus on offering competitive salaries and building support for the district’s special education and mental health programs.
• On the primary function of the school board: April Montgomery said local officials must do more to resist “mandates and laws” passed by the state Department of Education. “We work for the public,” she said. “They hire us, for lack of a better word, with their votes, and I think we have to do the right thing with them.”
• On the retention of educators: Ashley Nieves said the district should focus on reducing teachers’ workloads. She said the current school board is placing new demands on teachers “left and right,” making it harder for them to do their job.
• On how the board should discuss School Resource Officers: Rayna Remondini said, “I don’t think there’s a need for messaging.” She said FCPS schools “feel they need to be social justice warriors.”
• On solving problems related to special education: thomas thomas called the DOJ report “heartbreaking.” She said the county needs more consistent discipline policies. “Different administrators react differently to issues within their buildings,” she said.
The four members of the Education Not Indoctrination Slate did not participate in either forum. Cindy Rose, Olivia Angolia and Mark Joannides were scheduled to attend Wednesday night, and Nancy Allen was scheduled to attend Thursday night.
Rose said she and Angolia did not receive Zoom links for the forum, but The League’s Jim Filson said the group sent links to each contestant.
Tiffany Noble declined the invitation, according to the League.
Heather Fletcher, a candidate alongside Noble, also did not participate in Thursday night’s forum, despite the league announcing she was scheduled to attend.
Eight candidates will pass the primary elections. The field will be halved again in November, when four candidates are elected.
Primary elections take place on July 19. Early voting runs July 7-14.
Board of Education races are nonpartisan, meaning voters registered as independents can vote in the primaries. All 16 candidates will appear on Democratic and Republican ballots.