Bruell column: The 2021 school board election — parent or not, why you’ll want to vote
The upcoming school board elections in the Garfield Re2 and Roaring Fork School districts call for your attention — whether or not you have children in the schools. The candidates differ profoundly in terms of their motivation for running, qualifications for serving, and history of support for public education and our schools.
The context in which these elections are taking place is key. In both districts there are organized, vocal groups irate about the schools requiring masks and encouraging vaccinations. In Garfield Re-2, anti-mask parents have disrupted school board meetings, posted personal attacks of an individual school board member on social media and recently announced that they are taking formal legal action against the school district.
Comparing these two school districts illustrates the impact of mask policies. In the Roaring Fork School District (RFSD), masks have been required since the start of the school year. Only 24 students and 0 staff total have been out due to quarantine. In Garfield Re-2, there was no mask requirement until very recently; 392 students and staff have had to quarantine so far. That’s over 15 times more people quarantined in Garfield Re-2 compared with RFSD, though Re-2 has about 1,000 fewer students than RFSD (4,500 students vs 5,600). This underscores that when students and teachers wear masks, more in-person learning can continue, something parents, educators and the broader community all want.
With the unprecedented number of sick teachers in Re-2, the district has struggled to find substitute teachers to cover every class. Imagine how this issue would be compounded if the schools eliminated quarantines and continued to operate with no mask requirement, as the anti-mask group is demanding.
Given the groups that are organizing in opposition to sound, science-based school district policies, we need to think very carefully about who we want serving on our school boards. We need to elect individuals who are motivated by a desire to support healthy, successful schools, not by personal political agendas.
School boards are responsible for ensuring that our schools are fiscally sound, teachers are well-trained, excellent teachers are being retained, students are kept safe and graduates leave our schools with the skills needed to succeed in college or the workforce. We must elect individuals who will stay focused on these important goals and not let our districts get derailed by political controversies.
As a former school board member, I know what it takes to keep our schools running smoothly and improving year after year. Getting dragged into political fights diverts the board’s and staff’s focus from that essential work.
The most qualified candidates are those, regardless of political party, who have some familiarity with our schools and the field of education and have demonstrated that they are motivated to fulfill the responsibilities listed above. We need level-headed board members who will model the kind of civil and constructive dialogue we want our children to enjoy in the classroom. We need individuals who have the skills to critically examine legal contracts, understand Colorado’s school finance laws, review complex budgets and evaluate student achievement data.
There will always be disagreements within any school district, but there are processes in place for addressing those differences. Yelling at board members and threatening legal action are not productive ways to deal with conflict. We don’t want school board meetings devolving into a political circus. We don’t want precious district resources drained off into unnecessary lawsuits.
I urge you to evaluate each candidate carefully. Review the content of their Facebook pages and Letters to the Editor.
- Do their words and posts suggest a focus on children or their personal political views?
- Do they have a history of supporting our schools or do they seem to have some other motivation for running?
- Have they supported public education in the past?
- Have they enrolled their own children in our district schools or have they instead selected private institutions or schools outside our district?
- Do they have any prior experience in the field of education?
- Do they have any professional experience to help them perform their school board responsibilities effectively?
- Do they support or participate in groups whose primary mode is to disrupt?
Our public schools are integral to our communities. They shape our future through the education of our children; they are also one of the largest employers in Garfield County. Please vote for candidates who are qualified and motivated to make our schools the best they can be. Our children and our communities depend on it.
Debbie Bruell of Carbondale is a former Roaring Fork School District Board of Education member and currently chairs the Garfield County Democrats.
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