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Partisan politics enters nonpartisan school board race in Huntsville

HUNTSVILLE — A debate among seven of the eight candidates for Huntsville City School Board addressed questions regarding personal political beliefs, mask mandates, and critical race theory in schools. “Cookies and Candidates”, hosted by the group 5 Strong, took place Wednesday at the downtown Huntsville Madison County library.

District 2 candidates Sean Lulofs, Holly McCarty and Jeniece Willis Wilmer were joined by District 3 candidates Andrea Alvarez, incumbent Elisa Ferrell, and Angela McClure. Candidate for District 4, Ricky Howard, also took part while incumbent Ryan Renaud did not attend.

The debate included eight long-form questions where candidates were each given one minute to answer, followed by a “lightning round” question that could only be answered with a “yes”, “no”, or “I don’t know.” Audience questions were also allowed in the last part  with candidates given one minute each to answer.

When asked the lightning round question, “Do you support mandatory masking of students?”, each candidate answered no. However, in a follow-up question from the audience, candidates were asked to expand their answers considering masks were required in Huntsville City Schools.

Ferrell said the superintendent has the power to require masks, not the school board. Lulofs said he was frustrated about the masking issue and that is why he is running for the school board.

“I wasn’t heard, no one responded to my questions or my emails,” said Lulofs.

Wilmer said school officials were doing the best they could with the information they had at the time.

Candidates were also asked by the audience about their political beliefs. McClure responded while she is personally a conservative, “Politics do not belong in education.” Ferrell said she cast her first vote for Reagan and has voted Republican ever since.

When asked about elected school boards versus appointed school boards, Alvarez stood up quickly to decry the current system, “This system is not better, what we have done, we have entered a race and polarized it.”

Howard offered a differing view, saying elected school board members ensure the people are represented.

An additional lightning round question revealed all candidates opposed CRT being included in Huntsville City Schools curriculum. The Alabama State Board of Education passed a resolution in August 2021 banning the instruction of CRT in public schools.

Audience member Amber Hyland, a resident of District 3, said she was pleased with the debate.

“I think this is beneficial.  I can learn more about the candidates, even the ones not in my district,” said Hyland who has a fifth-grader and a third-grader in Huntsville City Schools.  Hyland said she was especially interested in the candidates past school involvement, “It was important to me to learn about who has actually volunteered and worked in our schools.”

Registered voters in Districts 2, 3 and 4 will head to the polls Aug. 23 to cast their ballots for City Council and Board of Education in the municipal election.

(Courtesy of 256 Today)

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