Kenosha faces stark choice in school board race, local Democrats say - TAI News
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School board elections in Wisconsin are coming up on April 2, and nowhere are the stakes clearer than in the race for the Kenosha Unified School District board.

A slate of pro-public education candidates is vying against a group of right-wing candidates for four seats on the school board.

School board races are officially nonpartisan in Wisconsin. Still, the Kenosha County Democratic Party chose to make endorsements in the Kenosha school board race due to extremist views shared by some of the candidates, said Lori Hawkins, chair of the Kenosha County Democratic Party.

“We do not like to get involved in partisan politics, but … we get so many people who say, Well, who do you guys support? And we decided we had to have a stake in it,” Hawkins said.

The local Democratic Party is endorsing incumbent school board members Mary Modder and Todd Price, as well as newcomers Sabrina Landry and Robin Cullen. Modder, Price and Landry are all on the ballot, while Cullen is campaigning as a write-in candidate.

“The big picture of what’s going on right now in the Kenosha Unified School Board race is that we have four candidates who are pro-public education, pro-adequately funding our schools, pro-librarian, pro-trusting professionals to make decisions about curriculum for children,” said Hawkins, “and then we have four candidates who represent different things.”

Candidates Bob Tierney, Angela Kretchmer, Jon Kim and Brian Thomas were all either endorsed or recommended by the Kenosha County Republican Party. The “different things” Hawkins refers to include denial of the 2020 election results, anti-LGBTQ statements, and endorsements of some of the candidates by extremist groups Moms for Liberty and MassResistance, according to a page on the Kenosha County Democrats’ website detailing statements and behavior from the Republican-backed candidates.

The Southern Poverty Law Center has designated both Moms for Liberty and MassResistance extremist or hate groups. The former was founded in 2021 to oppose mask mandates and other safety measures introduced at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic but has since publicly worked against inclusivity measures in schools. The latter was started in 2016 and has worked against inclusivity for LGBTQ people.

Tierney and Kim did not respond to requests for comment from the Wisconsin Independent.

Kretchmer sent a brief email statement: “I’m a mother of 4, educator, and candidate who cares about all our children’s future in Kenosha County.”

In a phone interview, Thomas said the Kenosha County Democratic Party had distorted and misrepresented some of his views. The local party says Thomas’ positions are aligned with those of Moms for Liberty, and though it does not claim he is   a member of the group, it does say his wife is.

Thomas, though, claimed not to know anything about the organization.

“To be perfectly honest with you, I don’t know what Moms for Liberty, what their mission statement is, or any of their views,” Thomas said. “At least locally, the only ones that I know of is that they have concerns with some of the books that are in the school that are graphically illustrated, sexually.”

He did say that his wife associates with some members of the group, however.

“She’s friends with some of the ladies that are members of that, but she’s personally not a member,” he said. “As far as I know, she’d never even gone to a meeting.”

Thomas defended other positions the county Democratic Party said he holds, including support for a previous school board candidate who had made anti-LGBTQ+ statements. Thomas affirmed his support for anti-trans sports bans and policies that would mandate educators inform parents if their children have questions about their own gender identity.

“Honestly, it’s not normal for boys to want to become girls and girls to want to become boys at the rate that’s happening unless there’s something else going on,” Thomas said.

Modder, who is currently in her sixth year on the Kenosha school board, said she’s especially worried that conservative candidates would push the kinds of extreme curriculums and book bans that have been seen in other states and school districts.

“I think the stakes are pretty high, because I think that the school board influences policy, and they influence the policy which influences the education that the students are receiving,” Modder said. “Some policies could be very restrictive as far as restricting what the teachers can teach, like what’s happening in Florida.”

In 2022, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed the state’s Parental Rights in Education law, dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay” law, prohibiting  teachers from discussing sexual orientation with their students, which for two years left them uncertain as to whether they could acknowledge students’ identities or even be open about their families or partners. A March settlement between Florida officials and civil rights lawyers finally clarified that teachers there may talk about orientation and identity provided it is not part of instruction.

Price, the other incumbent Kenosha school board candidate, said he thinks many of the positions being pushed by the conservative candidates are nothing more than a distraction in the race, and not anything he thinks deserves to be dignified with a response.

“It’s rather irrelevant,” Price said. “I’m just going to run on my record, and I think that speaks for itself.”

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