8 candidates vying for 3 seats debate issues for Lakota Schools

The race for majority seats on the governing board of southwest Ohio’s largest suburban district saw eight candidates square off earlier this month in an online forum.

The virtual forum – held in that format out as a precaution during the coronavirus pandemic – had candidates emphasizing the reasons voters should put them on the Lakota school board for the next four years.

Voters will choose three candidates for the five-member board overseeing the 17,000-student Lakota Schools, which serve West Chester and Liberty townships.

The forum was sponsored by the West Chester Liberty Chamber Alliance, the Lakota District Parent Council and Miami University with the help of Miami Professor John Forren acting as moderator.

The forum saw the candidates address a wide range of subjects while also talking about their qualifications. No questions, however, were asked, by Forren about the current high-profile community discussions among some regarding student masking.

Forren told the Journal-News after the forum: “I had actually planned to ask the candidates to comment on the school district’s COVID-related policies, but we simply ran out of time.”

Businesswoman and retail industry manager Darbi Boddy claimed Critical Race Theory (CRT), or a variation of the much publicly discussed instructional program, is being taught in Lakota - which district officials have denied - and she criticized such lessons.

“For the candidates who are saying nothing needs to change … their position is they are going to continue to adopt divisive ideology and mandates coming down from Washington, D.C., and Columbus.”

“I will not stand for our children’s future to be compromised. The school board is the last line of defense for students’ academic careers and personal well-being. Anyone watching the news gets it and they see the problems facing our students today,” said Boddy.

Vanessa Wells, a Lakota school parent who has successfully won a lawsuit settlement earlier this year against the Lakota Board of Education for violation of some Ohio open meeting laws, said she wants to remove politics from the schools.

“I truly believe it’s important to get new, fresh ideas and creative minds on the school board to help solve problems and to make sure different voices are being heard,” said Wells, who has also criticized the alleged teaching of CRT or similar lessons in Lakota classrooms.

“Our children need to be free to think critically and decide for themselves how they feel about these topics,” she said, adding teachers need to instruct “without their own personal bias.”

Michael Pearl, who was appointed to the board in 2020, said “it is imperative we embrace our diversity … we do teach and emphasize the importance of respect.”

Lakota’s mission should include making “sure we are providing the best education possible.”

“We are a diverse district … and that ought to be celebrated. No matter what you look like, no matter where you came from, no matter your sexual identity and no matter sexual preference, none of that really matters,” said Pearl. “We want to make sure every kid comes into their school ready to learn.”

Fellow incumbent candidate Kelly Casper’s responses included her touting the current board’s expansion of student learning programs “while being responsible with taxpayers’ dollars.”

These include, said Casper, the restoration of freshman busing, all-day kindergarten, the district’s high school Cyber Academy and expanded student learning technology through the distribution of thousands of laptops.

“I am very proud of the things our district has accomplished during my time on the board. We have increased opportunities for our students while still being good stewards of our taxpayers’ money,” she said.

Douglas Horton, a Procter & Gamble executive, said “our district is at a deep divide right now and we can all see that.”

But, said Horton, “I don’t want to change Lakota. I want to support it. I want to grow Lakota, I don’t want to attack it.”

A school volunteer, he said he would advocate for more arts instruction opportunities – especially in grade schools – and Horton said more emphasis needs to be placed on programs for gifted students.

“I understand what the district is truly facing and I have ideas to help,” he said.

Issac Adi, a managing partner of Ohio based KGN Petroleum, said Lakota should return to emphasizing traditional academic subjects rather than ideologically oriented instructions.

“There are many unnecessary things that are being brought into the schools that are not supposed to be there. There are many distractions. We need to focus on math, language arts, science and history and prepare them for life after school,” said Adi.

Lakota school parent Russ Loges – a nurse and business manager – said “I’m not a politician.”

“I think that is important point for the school board, that we don’t take political sides,” said Loges, who added his experience in nursing would be an asset as schools continue to operate during the pandemic.

“I believe in traditional values, fiscal responsibility, equal opportunity, transparency and accountability. We need to put the focus back on education. Many of us spent the last two years going back and forth about masks and vaccines and I’d really like to get back to focusing on our students’ education,” he said.

Lakota school parent Karine Chausse said “politics have no room on the school board.”

“I also believe we need to be responsible with our tax dollars. Our community needs change and unity. And we need to respect each other’s differences,” said Chausse.

“I’m running for school board because our children need help. Lakota is as diverse as any community. Our children merely need to be taught math, language arts, science and history. Throw in the golden rule of treat others as you like to be treated and we will free them from political agendas,” she said.

Go to the West Chester Liberty Chamber Alliance website to see video of the forum.

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