By Jenna Bloom and Danielle Hodes, Capital News Service
Forty-one socially conservative candidates from across Maryland ran for school board seats Tuesday — and 25 of them appear to be on their way to winning their races.
In other words, 61% of the conservative board candidates ended up ahead in a state where a Democrat, Wes Moore, won the gubernatorial election by 20 points to become Maryland’s first Black governor. Conservatives won school board races throughout much of the state, with the largest number elected in Harford, Carroll and Wicomico counties.
The Local News Network at the University of Maryland’s Philip Merrill College of Journalism identified the conservative candidates by coding 102 candidate responses to a Capital News Service survey on important issues in the campaign. The Local News Network also scoured the social media of the candidates who did not respond, as well as media coverage of the races and endorsements by conservative organizations, to identify other conservative candidates among the 53 candidates who did not reply to the survey.
While school board elections are nonpartisan, the conservative candidates’ platforms focused on what they called a fight for parents’ rights in schooling. The conservative candidates often raise the sort of concerns that Maggie Litz Domanowski, a candidate who won her race in Baltimore County’s District 3, mentioned in an interview.
She wants schools to focus on basic subjects and avoid anything students ought to learn at home.
“We need to let our parents do the moral guiding,” she said. “My kids are my kids, and I don’t want someone teaching them a moral or or anything about sexuality before I have a chance to teach it to them.”
Not surprisingly, the right-leaning candidates saw the most success in conservative parts of Maryland.
Overall, they found seats on the school boards of 14 counties across the state, ranging from Garrett County in western Maryland to Worcester County on the Eastern Shore. Those results include early-voting and Election Day votes, but many counties had not yet counted mail-in or provisional ballots, meaning final results may differ in close races.
But social conservatives weren’t even on the ballot in three of the state’s largest population centers: Baltimore City, Montgomery County and Prince George’s County.
In Frederick County, a conservative “Education Not Indoctrination” slate campaigned on taking a close look at the district’s curriculum.
“School boards have been abdicating their responsibilities and duties to do what is best for a child’s education,” Cindy Rose, a member of the Education Not Indoctrination slate, said in response to a CNS survey. “There is too much focus on emotions, sexuality, racial division and political activism. I want to remove all of that from the classroom. These are family topics of discussion, not government school discussions.”
Four board members were elected in Frederick County, including two from the Education Not Indoctrination slate: Rose and Nancy Allen. Also elected were two candidates who opposed that slate: Rae Gallagher and Karen Yoho.
As a parent herself, Gallagher said she didn’t share the concerns of the Education Not Indoctrination slate regarding the district’s curriculum as well as the books available in school libraries. Now, though, she said it is time for board members on opposite sides of those issues to get past their differences.
“I think any of us who are on the board or in elected positions have to be really aware of some of the polarizing discussions that happened throughout the election cycle,” she said in an interview. “And we have to work together and be able to listen to all of those views. … But ultimately for the board, we need to come together and make the best decisions for our schools and for our kids.”
In Wicomico County, four candidates ran on an Education Not Indoctrination slate and two of them won: Susan Beauchamp and Kristin Hazel. So did conservative candidate John Palmer, who wrote in the Capital News Service survey that he has “deep concerns about the way U.S. history is being changed and deleted by the woke movement.”
An incumbent, Palmer was ahead by 17 percentage points as of Thursday in his race against Jake Blank, an Education Not Indoctrination candidate.
Leonard Arvi, a more progressive candidate, trailed Beauchamp by just over 37 percentage points in Wicomico’s District 3 race.
In an interview, Arvi said that moderate voices on the board will outnumber the three conservatives elected this week. Arvi also noted that most of the district’s funding comes from the state, as do the parameters of the schools’ curriculum, thereby limiting the board’s power.
“I think most of the candidates are moderate once they go on the board because the board itself does not have a lot of leeway,” Arvi said.
Michael Guessford, a conservative candidate who joined the Washington County school board in 2018 and won his reelection Tuesday, credited the COVID-19 pandemic with getting more parents to take a closer look at what was happening in local schools.
“Once [parents and grandparents] started seeing the curriculum that is being taught in our schools … they’re finally stepping up,” Guessford said in an interview. “They’re saying: ‘Whoa, whoa, let’s get back to teaching the basics. We don’t need all these other clubs. We don’t need all this other rhetoric in our schools right now.’”
In the Capital News Service survey, Guessford indicated that he wanted a committee of parents to review all books present in school libraries.
But other candidates are wary of allowing parents to have too much control over what’s happening in the schools. Among those candidates is Samay Singh Kindra, who trailed his opponent, Brenda Hatcher-Savoy, by less than a percentage point in Baltimore County’s District 4 with provisional ballots yet to be counted.
“I think that it’s hard to address parental rights as a topic because that encompasses a lot,” he said in an interview. For some people, “that means more transparency with the board of education in terms of just being communicative. For others that means parents getting a say directly over curriculum of every subject, and that’s something that obviously I’m not in favor of. We have a board of education in the school system for a reason.”