This year the arena for the culture wars has moved into school boards. Across the nation, angry people have been attending, and often disrupting, meetings to complain about mask and vaccine mandates, critical race theory and sex education.
Many of these people are also running for school board positions across America. And the battle has come to Whidbey Island.
While it’s important to have a diversity of ideas in government, trying to use public schools and children in our community as fodder for a war against mask mandates, vaccines and safety is not only misplaced, but reckless.. School boards make tangible decisions — like setting budgets — and they need to dedicate their time to learning complex regulations and a crazy alphabet of acronyms, not screeching about state or national issues.
Moreover, many of the candidates challenging incumbents have been secretive and opaque, the opposite of what candidates for public office should be.
Voters should support the incumbents islandwide. They are open and proud about their records, as they should be. For the Oak Harbor School Board, that’s John Diamond and Erik Mann. On South Whidbey, Marnie Jackson, Ann Johnson and Andrea Downs deserve to be reelected.
The picture is a little different in Coupeville, where there are two open seats on the board. Nancy Conard and Morgan White are the right people for those positions.
Challengers on North and South Whidbey didn’t take part in the candidate forums held by the Whidbey Island League of Women Voters and instead held their own gatherings with supporters. The League is a respected, nonpartisan group that for many years has held forums that are known for being fair and illuminating.
Jessica Thompson and Jason Uemoto, two candidates running for the Oak Harbor School Board, refused to be interviewed by a reporter unless they could do it together. They don’t seem to understand that candidates are elected individually and need to speak for themselves.
Instead, Thompson and Uemoto emailed answers to a set of questions. Bizarrely, they both sent the exact same answers and Uemoto admitted they collaborated on them.
Thompson and Uemoto were part of the audience when a school board meeting was disrupted and ended early because people refused to wear masks. On his campaign Facebook page, Uemoto wrote, “I’m not anti-vaccine, but I am against your poison in my child’s veins, Dr. Mengele Fauci. So a big ‘Nope’ for you!”
‘Nuff said, as they say.
The South Whidbey School Board meetings have also been lively lately, with the people complaining about a “Black Lives Matter” banner and the audience interrupting a meeting with the Pledge of Allegiance.
Farrah Manning Davis, Dawn Tarantino and Bree Kramer-Nelson have been less than forthcoming with the public and this newspaper. Instead of agreeing to do interviews, they emailed answers to questions. They held a “meet-and-greet” instead of taking part in the forum.
Manning Davis complained when a South Whidbey Record story pointed out that her child is in a private school, showing she has a profound lack of understanding of basic journalism, the First Amendment and candidate transparency.
In Coupeville, former Mayor Conard, who used to work at the district as a budget manager, would be an ideal school board member. She’s running against Paul Rempa, who didn’t attend the League of Women Voter forum or speak with the News-Times.
In the other race, Ward Sparacio is facing White for another open seat. Sparacio has been open about his thoughts. He doesn’t like the mask mandate but understands it’s not a decision made locally and violating it would mean a loss of funding.
Likewise, White understands that schools aren’t the right place to take stands on mask mandates. She also has a background that will help her on the board. She’s a Coupeville graduate, a parent with children in the district and an avid classroom volunteer.
The schools need leaders who will work together and get things done, not argue over dogma.