Your Blue Valley school board general election primer

Blue Valley School Board

Four of the six candidates whose names will appear on the Nov. 2 ballot participated in a Post forum earlier this month. They included, seated from left, Andrew Van Der Laan, Gina Knapp, Jim McMullen and Lindsay Weiss.

Advance in-person voting for the upcoming general election began Saturday, Oct. 23, in Johnson County, and Election Day is less than a week away on Nov. 2

As residents head to the polls to cast their ballots Blue Valley school board, we’ve put together an election primer to give you an easy way to find out where the candidates stand on the issues.

No other news outlet devotes as much attention to giving Blue Valley area voters a way to find out where candidates running for local office stand on the issues facing our community. If you value having a news outlet provide this kind of coverage, we hope you’ll consider becoming a subscriber if you aren’t already. Your first month of full access is just $1.

Who’s on the ballot

Member 4 Area (northeast)

Member 5 Area (northwest

Member 6 Area (south)

Candidate questionnaires

Earlier this month, the Post published the candidates’ responses to a five-item questionnaire we developed with readers’ input. The five questionnaire items and the candidates’ responses are linked below:

Question #1: What’s your assessment of how the district has handled managing COVID-19 risk at the start of this school year? Do you believe masks are effective at slowing the spread of the virus? Do you support the masking requirement for students? Read candidates’ answers here.

Question #2: Diversity, equity and inclusion programs have been under scrutiny in recent months as national media personalities and politicians raise alarms about the teaching of “critical race theory” or ideas linked to it. Do you support the district’s current approach to diversity, equity and inclusion? Why or why not? What does the term “critical race theory” mean to you? Read candidates’ answers here.

Question #3: The high performance of Blue Valley schools has in many ways been the catalyst for the growth of southern Johnson County for more than two decades. As the district continues to grow, how can the board ensure Blue Valley schools continue to produce excellent results? Read candidates’ answers here.

Question #4: What are your views about the role of technology in the classroom? Are you comfortable with the amount of time students spend on screens during the school day? Why or why not? Read candidates’ answers here.

Question #5: What’s the biggest challenge facing the Blue Valley School District today, and what should the board of education be doing to address it? Read candidates’ answers here.

Candidate forum

The Post hosted an in-person forum for Blue Valley school board candidates on Oct. 3. Four candidates participated.

Video of the event can be watched at the Post’s Facebook page and is also embedded below, followed by a summary of the topics that were discussed and their corresponding time stamps to help readers find the candidates’ answers more quickly:

  • Blue Valley is one of the highest performing public school districts in the state of Kansas. It outperforms state and national averages on a variety of achievement metrics, including ACT and SAT scores, AP course enrollment, high school graduation and college acceptance rates. It’s annual state test scores are some of the highest in Kansas. To you, what does this data say about where Blue Valley students are at in terms of being college and career ready? Do you see any challenges or gaps in how the district is pushing students to achieve? [9:33]
  • Currently, Blue Valley — like most other public school districts in Johnson County — requires masking for all students, staff and visitors inside its facilities. Families can request exemptions based on certain medical conditions. There are also situations, like eating lunch or playing sports indoors, where students can take their masks off. There is no specified end date to this mask policy. First part to this question is a simple YES or NO, and then I’ll ask a follow up of each of you. But first: do you support the district’s current universal mask policy? [15:53]
    1. If YES …  Critics, among other things, say the current mask policy is too broad and takes away parents’ power to make choices for their kids. At school board meetings, we’ve heard parents opposed to mandatory masks say mask-wearing is exacerbating academic problems and mental health issues in children. Some opponents to universal masking point to the fact that though kids are getting infected, severe illness and death from COVID-19 in children is rare and that a universal mask rule, therefore, is overreaching in its scope. How do you answer these concerns? Is there room to make more accommodations for parents wanting their children to go unmasked, while also preserving broader collective health? 
    2. If NO … Supporters of mask rules in schools say this is what is needed to protect young people, most of whom are NOT vaccinated yet, or not eligible to be vaccinated. They also point to evidence from the CDC and Kansas state department of health that shows outbreaks are more likely in schools where mask-wearing is optional. More cases at school leads to more students being quarantined at home, missing out on in-person classes. How do you respond to these concerns? Would you advocate for looser mask rules even if it meant potentially more students being exposed to COVID, getting sick and having to be excluded from school at home?
  • Debates over masks and other COVID-19 mitigation protocols in schools and elsewhere often come down to deeper disagreements over values and what is the proper tradeoff between collective public health and individual freedom. Ifelected, you will likely face pandemic-related decisions that impact thousands of students and their families … and may force you to weigh these competing demands of individuals and the greater community. How do you see this tradeoff between individual freedom and public health? Which way, if either, do you lean? [24:42]
  • Maybe now more than ever, parents, families and students are aware of the impact technology can have on learning — both good and bad — after the pandemic last school year forced many kids to spend big chunks of time learning at home. Following a 2018 student and community survey, Blue Valley has instituted some form of digital technology in all grade levels. There are iPads for every other student in kindergarten through 2nd grade… and one-to-one devices available for every grade after that. In general, do you think the district’s use of digital technology has advanced student learning or harmed it or fallen somewhere in between? What, if anything, could be improved about technology’s implementation in classrooms? [28:33]
  • Like many districts in recent years, Blue Valley has been accelerating its efforts at diversity, equity and inclusion. A district-wide committee  made up of staff, students and community members has recommended a number of things includinghiring a district diversity leader, establishing a system for reporting and responding to incidents and establishing DEI groups at every school to come up with ways each campus can be more inclusive. Do you support the district’s current approach to diversity, equity and inclusion? If so, can you give examples of how it supports student learning? If not, explain what you would want to see done differently and how that would impact student learning? [35:33]
  • A term that many of our readers wanted us to ask about is “critical race theory.” Now, I’m going to ask you in a moment to define what that term — “critical race theory” — means to you. But here is what some other people are saying about it. Earlier this summer, the Kansas Association of School Boards issued a statement saying “critical race theory” is not part of any Kansas state academic standards, calling it a “theoretical approach to material generally discussed in higher education.” Likewise, the Kansas State Board of Education said critical race theory has been “unfortunately conflated with educational equity.” Still, there are many prominent political leaders and conservative commentators, most notably former President Trump, who liken “critical race theory” to indoctrination and propaganda and insist students need to be shielded from it. So how do you define “critical race theory” and do you think it poses a challenge to Blue Valley? [42:03]
  • Last year, the school board adopted a new five-year strategic plan called Reimagine Blue Valley. Among other things, it emphasized giving students “voice and choice” in their learning and helping them lead “healthy and well-balanced” livesboth physically and emotionally. Reimagine Blue Valley also mentions the importance of giving students “high quality literacy” instruction as well as lessons in “digital literacy” and also gives a nod to training young people on issues like “unconscious bias” and inequality. What do you think is the most important aspect of the district’s current strategic plan? And does Reimagine Blue Valley lack any goal or priority you consider vital? [48:35]
  • Students have shared they are often times uncomfortable speaking with their parents about social or mental health issues. If elected to the school board, how would you support mental health initiatives currently in place for students of all grades levels? [54:46]