State News

School board candidates against critical race theory flounder at the polls

Covid-19 safety rules and equity initiatives remained broadly popular statewide

By Peter D’Auria/VTDigger

In the weeks before Town Meeting Day, a surge of anti-mask mandate, anti-“critical race theory” candidates from across Vermont made bids for seats on school boards.

But according to results, many of those candidates failed to beat their opponents at the polls — suggesting that schools’ Covid-19 safety rules and equity initiatives remained broadly popular.

Mask mandates and critical race theory, an academic framework used to understand systemic racism, have become wedge issues across the country, including in Vermont.

In the Mill River Unified Union School District, however, the race was narrowly won. Ingrid Lepley, a candidate for the Mill River School District board, fell about 20 votes short of a seat, according to results released by the town of Tinmouth.

Lepley has been linked to a now-shuttered Etsy site whose merchandise included jewelry designed to feature themes of the conspiracy theory QAnon.

Another Mill River candidate, Kristine Billings, who had expressed fear that critical race theory was being “matriculated into the classroom,” fell about 30 votes short of unseating board Chair Adrienne Raymond.

In Springfield, voters turned away two board candidates — Katie Parent and Michael Jasinski — who previously voiced concerns about the instruction of critical race theory in schools.

The two were among five candidates for two board seats. But in results posted on the Springfield town website Tuesday evening, Jasinski and Parent finished last and second-to-last, respectively.

In Arlington, candidate Luke Hall, a former Vermont state trooper who sought to make masks optional in schools and expressed concern about the divisiveness of critical race theory, lost to incumbent Nicole Whalen by roughly 300 votes, according to results sent by the town clerk.

Hall did not immediately respond to a Facebook message seeking comment.

In Milton, voters rejected a trio of school board challengers that had circulated a document criticizing mask mandates and critical race theory, according to unofficial results.

Those candidates — Nichole Delong, Scott O’Brien and Brock Rouse — each garnered approximately 200 fewer votes than their opponents, the results showed. Officials were still tallying “hand counts and write-ins,” they said.

Chair Rick Dooley and newcomers Kumulia Long and Karen Stout were poised to earn seats.

Prior to the election, Delong, O’Brien and Rouse had issued a document affirming their belief in “Americanism not Marxism” and “One Nation Under God.” The candidates also opposed Milton schools’ mask mandate.

In St. Albans, Keith Longmore, a candidate for the Maple Run Unified Union School Board who appeared to have posted right-wing conspiracy theories and offensive memes online, garnered only about half the votes won by his opponent, Reier Erickson.

In the Kingdom East School District, Mathew Johnson, a candidate who had denounced the board’s “socialist agendas” and compared mask mandates to child abuse, lost by roughly 120 votes to two opponents for the board seat, results showed. Johnson did not reply to a Facebook message Tuesday night.

But controversial topics could feature in at least one more election before the end of the month: the Lake Region Union School District board races. Another two anti-critical race theory candidates are running in those elections, which are scheduled for March 22.

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