Partisan politics spark interest in school board elections


COVID-19 created universal chaos in education, reflected in loud and emotional school board meetings. Parents, teachers and community members showed up to those meetings like never before, to blame and berate school board members on everything from mask mandates and vaccination requirements to critical race theory and LGBTQ representation.

Those issues have sparked a lot of interest in the November school board election.

“Strong Republicans or Democrats who have these passionate partisan feelings now see the school board as a partisan body that might be attractive to them,” said Evan Crawford, a political scientist at the University of San Diego. He studies trends on school boards across the country.

School board seats are nonpartisan, but the upcoming election has school board candidates with strong party support. The San Diego County Democratic and Republican parties have endorsed dozens of candidates in the many contests on the ballot.

Shawn Steel is a lifelong Republican. He chairs the California Republican Party and is the state representative on the Republican National Committee. He has been working recruiting and training candidates for school boards in a program called Parent Revolt.

“I don’t care how much experience they have. If they are parents and they love their children and they are reasonable, I would support them. That includes non-Republicans,” Steel told KPBS News. “It’s a hidden giant with so many opportunities for people to get involved and have a say on local school boards.”

There has also been a movement to give students some say in these forums. San Diego Unified now has two student council members, who are elected by their high school peers. But for boards that don’t have such offices, there is another way students can be elected. Shiva Rajbhandari, 18, is a high school senior who won a regular seat on the school board from him in Boise, Idaho in September. He defeated an established incumbent candidate who accepted the endorsement of a local far-right paramilitary group known as the Idaho Liberty Dogs.

Shiva Rajbhandari, 18, ran for the Boise, Idaho School Board and defeated a conservative incumbent to become the first elected student. Undated photo, Boise, Idaho.

“The only way we can stand up for our schools is to stand up and say ‘No’… stop it,” he said in a virtual interview with KPBS News.

“That extremism has no place here; everyone is welcome to participate in making decisions regarding our schools. Hate and violence have no place here in Boise or anywhere else in the country,” he said.

“I would say to students in San Diego and across the country that their voice matters and they can make a difference,” Rajbhandari said.

His landmark pick provides a teachable moment, which Kisha Borden says is a good thing. She has decades of experience as a San Diego teacher and now serves as the regional director for the California Teachers Association.

“It’s a lesson that shows how important it is for everyone to participate in the Democratic process,” Borden said.


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