Six candidates seeking four at-large seats on the Frederick County Board of Education spoke about a variety of issues at a forum Monday night at Asbury United Methodist Church.
Around 50 people heard from Brad Young, Camden Raynor, Jay Mason, Karen Yoho, Liz Barrett and Kim Williams. Young and Barrett currently serve on the board. Fellow incumbent and candidate April Miller did not attend, and neither did candidate Cindy Rose.
The forum, organized by Frederick County’s Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Chapter and the League of Women Voters, was conducted at a rapid pace, as candidates each answered dozens of questions about school safety, the district’s budget, diversity in schools and other issues.
Jason Lee, a Frederick County resident and CEO of Lee Building Maintenance — a commercial cleaning and building maintenance service — moderated the forum.
For about the first hour, candidates answered pre-submitted questions about those issues. The first one was about safety, focusing on the climate of school buildings in the wake of recent shootings.
Mason, when asked whether teachers should be armed to protect their students against such threats, was unequivocal.
“I am against any teacher carrying a weapon. ... They’re in a classroom to teach,” he said. “It’s hard to pull the trigger. So are we gonna ask a teacher to ask their kids to hide, and then walk the halls to pull the trigger?”
Some questions, like that one, were posed to individual candidates. Others were asked to all six candidates on hand Monday night, including about the value of STEM and non-STEM programs, and whether too much emphasis has been put on the former.
Barrett believed there’s perhaps been too much focus on STEM.
“The purpose of public education is to make students better students,” she said. “We’re losing humanity, for our kids to develop and be kids. ... There’s so much pressure from our economy to push for [STEM] right now.”
Another question all the candidates were asked was whether they support Policy 443, which was recently adopted by the district last year. It allows transgender students who don’t want to use a male or female restroom to use a non-stigmatizing alternative, such as a teachers’ bathroom or other option.
All six candidates were in support of the policy at Monday night’s forum. Karen Yoho, however, suggested that training needs to be uniform at every school in the county.
“I absolutely support Policy 443. ... What I’m seeing and hearing from talking to other teachers is that training is so different depending on the building you’re in, and it shouldn’t be that way.”
Toward the beginning of the forum, Raynor was asked about the impact bullying can have on students, and how further situations concerning that topic should be handled.
He believes that bullying — noting it can happen not only with kids but also adults — needs to be handled through more staff, calling for more counselors and psychologists.
“We need a school culture that emphasizes and supports students,” Raynor said.
Young, in response to what the board could do to improve its relationship with the community, called on a full team effort.
“I think over the last eight years, we’ve done a lot better with that,” said Young, who is seeking a third term. “This is a community job, it’s not just the school system’s job by itself.”
Another question every candidate was asked concerned diversity: With the shortage of diverse teachers in Maryland and Frederick County, what is being done to fix that?
Kim Williams answered that diversity needs to be in more leadership positions across the district, from the school board to teachers to administration.
“You need to have people at the top,” Williams said. “We need to diversify in every avenue ... they [students] and their parents wanna see teachers who look like them.”
After the six candidates gave closing statements — all of which described why they were running for school board — Kimberly Scott gave closing remarks to close the forum.
Scott, Delta Sigma Theta’s political awareness and involvement chairwoman, commended the six candidates and community members for attending the forum, which concluded around 8:45 p.m. She urged people to continue to be involved in local politics, including school board elections.
“As long as you’re sitting here,” Scott told the audience, “then that shows that this matters.”