GRANVILLE — Voters have no shortage of controversial issues to consider when choosing two of five candidates for the Granville School Board in the Nov. 2 general election.
The candidates discussed COVID, masks, critical race theory, school funding and encroaching development at a recent candidates' forum.
Thomas Miller is the lone incumbent in the race. The other board candidates are Dennis Owen Kaps, John Kronk, Amy McAllister and Rana Odeh.
Miller, who has been on the board for 10 years, defended the board decision to mandate masks in the elementary school, while three of his opponents disagreed with the decision. He said the school year started with a choice on mask wearing, but that soon changed.
"When it became evident we could no longer teach successfully due to the high numbers of forced quarantines with a significant spread of positive cases in our community, we instituted a K-6 mask mandate to keep kids from being quarantined by the health department.”
Superintendent Jeff Brown was unanimously granted authority by the board on Sept. 20 to implement the mandate.
Kronk, chairman of the Granville Recreation Board who has been a youth sports coach, Sunday school teacher and volunteer coordinator for the Wildwood playground build, worries more about the mask itself than the virus.
“Masking, to me, has always been a parent choice," Kronk said. "If elected, I will work to remove the mask mandate, if it’s not removed already, because the long-term potential developmental and mental challenges that may arise from masking younger students, for me, far outweigh the short-term, non-acute effects of COVID on children.”
Kaps, a business owner and investor in three small businesses, started his career in non-profits and moved to multi-billion Fortune 500 companies. He also disagreed with the board's decision.
“What is the right health decision for one person, may not be the right health decision for the next person," Kaps said. "I believe families are in the best position to make the call of what’s right for them, so I am opposed to mandates of any kind. I believe in the freedom of individual families to make choices of what’s best for them.”
McAllister, who has a master’s degree in public administration, has worked in university development and grant writing and for non-profits. She said she wears a mask, as do her children in school, but added, “I am adamantly opposed to mask and vaccine mandates. I am pro parent choice."
Odeh, a member of Granville Township Land Management Committee and a former member of Granville Parent Co-Op Board, has two children with asthma and supports the board's mandate. She said her children missed considerable school time due to quarantines.
“I was OK with the option for parents to choose until I began receiving an email every other day that there was an infection at the elementary school level," Odeh said. "It’s alarming and keeping students out of the classroom. I believe it’s more beneficial to keep kids at school and protect our vulnerable community members by wearing masks. Based on the scientific data, I believe we made the right decision.”
The teaching of critical race theory also brought out varied opinions from the candidates. Miller said critical race theory is not taught in Granville, but the idea of teaching about race and race relations in American history brought out strong opinions.
McAllister said teaching about race in American history should only occur in the older grades.
"We aren’t teaching CRT in our district, but people use CRT and equity, diversity and inclusion interchangeably," McAllister said. “The concern (in the community) with diversity, equity and inclusion is a worry that their child will be made to feel like an aggressor or a victim. This is not what we want our children to think about themselves or others.”
Kaps said, “I do believe we should tell the truth about our country’s past. I don’t believe it should be a course taught on its own. I don’t think it should be a new part of the curriculum, but as it comes up naturally in history.”
Kronk said, “It only serves our students best when we teach them how to think and not teach them what to think.”
Odeh said in elementary school, children should learn about about people of different races and cultures, but not the violent aspects of our history. As students get older, that should change, she said.
"A middle school student should learn the factual history of race relations and in high school they should have more nuance about how that history shapes race relations today," Odeh said. "If we shield our children from uncomfortable conversations now, they will not be prepared for the real world and we would be doing them a disservice.”
Miller said the district should not ignore challenging times in the nation's history. He said board members don’t write the curriculum.
“If we start censoring content or facts from our nation’s history or limiting teachers’ ability to appropriately discuss current events, it’s a dangerous precedent," Miller said. "We need to learn from our past and embrace our nation’s history of working through issues together."
All the candidates had concerns about the impact on district finances from a new state formula for school funding and potential residential development. The superintendent has said a proposed River Road housing development, canceled for now, would force new school buildings and a new tax levy on residents. They all agreed more business development would help ease the burden on residents.
Kaps said, “Ohio has a need-based funding system. That means districts like Granville that are considered wealthy, get very little from the state. That means a huge share of the tax burden falls to the residents.”
Odeh said, “The best way to curb residential development is by protecting our open spaces.”
McAllister said, “An especially relevant part of our funding comes from grants. My background in grant writing is something that I can bring to the board that I don’t know that every candidate can offer."
The new funding formula could put Granville in a less than desirable position, McAllister said, but she added the impact is really unknown because the state makes last-minute funding adjustments.
“I know some will say it makes it easier to predict future funds, but as you know the state just last year allocated money for each student and at the end of the year, they cut the funding by 9%," McAllister said. "Just an incredible amount as we’re wrapping up the school year.”
Miller said the district generates only 10% of its local school tax from business.
“The reality is Granville will always be considered a wealthy school district by the state and will need to continue to rely on local tax revenue for our schools," Miller said. "We need to continue to pursue responsible business development.”
Kronk said the state's new plan will hurt Granville.
“The new Ohio school funding plan, I feel, will be a net loss for Granville," Kronk said. "I will take a stand on that question. It will require more local or taxpayer funding in order to maintain these offerings.”
This article originally appeared on Newark Advocate: Granville school board candidates tackle controversial issues at forum