School Boards Election Fallout

We’ve had some interesting times this year putting out fires concerning evolution and climate change in new science textbooks up for adoption in a few Florida school districts. Did those experiences impact school board elections in those counties? Of course, there were many other issues voters had on their minds, but perhaps battles over science education were on those lists of issues. Let’s take a look at what happened.

Collier County: Four citizens had filed 220 objections to the textbooks and cited in their written objections filed with the school district many creationist sources but then claimed during the hearing that their complaints had nothing to do with religion. The marathon five-hour hearing and board member deliberation (June 18, 2018) eventually resulted in a narrow 3-2 vote in favor of adopting new science textbooks without any alterations or supplemental materials. One school board member on the losing side claimed that it’s okay for the concept of intelligent design to be taught in science classrooms and the other school board member who voted no accused the books of pushing a political agenda concerning climate change. Election Update: Both of those who voted no to the science textbooks are now gone: Roy Terry and Jen Mitchell elected to Collier County School Board

Throughout their four-year terms, [Kelly] Lichter and [Erika] Donalds have brought a conservative perspective to the board; they pushed for the district to share capital funding with charter schools and backed a group of far-right education advocates in their mission to rid schools of textbooks they said “indoctrinate” students with lessons about Islam, evolution and human-induced climate change.

Their views have often put them on the losing side of 3-2 votes. The pair’s replacements, Westberry and Mitchell, however, have far less conservative views that are more in line with the rest of the board, and their election will likely bring about a string of unanimous votes.

Though the political battle over the local School Board may be over for now, the county’s ultraconservative groups are refocusing their efforts on the state, and Collier board members may be forced to reckon with state legislation they disagree with.

Martin County: School board member Rebecca Negron spent more than half an hour at the June 5 board meeting attempting to dazzle the audience with endless quotes that appeared to show scientists versus scientists arguing over the validity of evolution. She did this in an attempt to convince everyone that the science textbooks under consideration for purchase violate Florida statute that requires the books be “accurate, objective, and balanced.” How can the books be accurate and balanced if so many “evolutionists” (she kept on pointing out these quotes came from scientists and evolutionists) were refuting what was in the high school science textbooks? Election Update: Negron is out: Retired educator Victoria Defenthaler wins seat on Martin County School Board

Victoria Defenthaler defeated incumbent Rebecca Negron in a School Board race clouded by attack ads funneled into Martin County from outside the region.

Defenthaler, a retired educator, raised and spent more during her campaign, but one political action committee alone threw nearly $31,000 more into a massive mailing on Negron’s behalf.

Clay County: School board member Ashley Gilhousen protested during a board meeting: “But my difficulty lies in the narrow scope as it relates to the theory of human and species origin in that the only theory mentioned is evolution. And all that is expected for students to know is its supporting evidence and none of its flaws. At best, this limited level of exposure for students to the highly contested views on the origin of life and species is negligent. At the worst it’s intellectually deceptive.” Election Update: Gilhousen is in a runoff: ‘The real winners are the children of Clay County’.

Bullock teamed up on the campaign trail with incumbent Janice Kerekes and political newcomer Lynne Hirabayashi Chafee under the moniker of JLT. Chafee, a Guardian ad Litem children’s advocate, will be in a runoff in November with first-term District 5 school board member incumbent Ashley Gilhousen, the top two vote getters in a three-way race. Gilhousen received 18,397 votes, Chafee received 11,134 and Travis Christensen received 8,158.

Interesting results, don’t you think? Have you kept an eye on your own local school board elections? Let us know if you have any concerns so that we can keep an eye on them!

About Brandon Haught

Communications Director for Florida Citizens for Science.
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