Four vie for seat on school board | News | #Education

CENTREVILLE — Four candidates for the Queen Anne’s County Board of Education will appear on the July primary election ballot. With four candidates filed for the non-partisan position: Richard Bewley Jr, Stevensville; Alexis Capes, Marydel; Jay Kenty, Stevensville; and Kent Laing, Centreville — all the candidates running for Board of Education at Large will appear on the primary ballot. The primary will determine the top two to move on to the November general election.

There are only two candidates filed for District 1, Church Hill: incumbent Shannon Bent and Chris Blanton, they will automatically move on to the general election.

Each candidate was asked to share their biographical information and highlight some of their top concerns. Read on to learn more about each.

A resident of Kent Island since 1995, Richard Bewley is in the medical field and currently works for the Blood Bank. “My goal is truly to work with the community to fairly represent the entire community and take positions based on community consensus and compromise,” Bewley said. “Unfortunately the community is completely split on a small number of issues we just have to compromise on, and they’re going to have to be iterative works of progress. I can offer some solutions now, but I’m also going to admit there is much research and work to be done to develop policy positions that resolve issues in the best interest of the community.”

Bewley said he doesn’t pretend to know all the answers, and believes part of the work of an effective board is to change those positions as it becomes clear through evaluation and community feedback that change is necessary.

“The school system isn’t filled with only problems,” Bewley said, “We have great teachers, high test scores, amazing sports teams, and wonderful programs that are producing amazing graduates every year. While the controversy and public forum tends to focus on the negative we have to always continue nurturing the positive.”

Bewley said he believes the majority of the community is satisfied with how the school balanced COVID-related safety with in-person learning. “My personal feelings about masks is that I would not mandate them, but they could be optional. I would encourage the community to be respectful of those who do decide to wear them, and I continue to advocate common sense things like washing your hands, staying home if you’re sick, etc.”

Regarding staffing, Bewley said he is aware that the Board works within a limited budget set by the County Commissioners, and his understanding is that >80% of the operating budget is committed to salaries. “We obviously have a shortage of substitute teachers and other staff (Including teachers in the Educators budget line item). My position is that we need to look into increasing the hourly rate of support staff to attract the staffing levels we need. Educators were behind three steps, now they are behind two steps,” he said. “My position is we have a responsibility to catch them up.”

Combined with this is a need for a fixed budget, says Bewley.

“I don’t know if that can happen in one year or two years, but my position is that we look at the numbers and do everything we can to compensate them fairly. We also have to make sure there is enough left in the operating budget to patch the roof, keep the lights on, fund the copying machine lease-to-own need and all the other needs for a completely functional school system.”

Addressing Critical Race Theory concerns, Bewley said he’s pointed out that Critical Race Theory itself is a college level class not taught in our schools, and the community has responded that even though it is not a formal part of our curriculum there are components to it that have some guidance from MSDE (Maryland State Department of Education) which the Board has some leeway in implementing or not.

“My position,” said Bewley, “is that I do not support blindly accepting a formal program that doesn’t meet our community’s standards and values. I think we can have discussions about race and controversial topics but only if we are truly having an honest discussion that is open for everyone to talk.”

Parent to a daughter attending Sudlersville Elementary, Alexis Capes says she filed to run

because a lack of leadership has been evident during the past two years and she, like so many others, felt voiceless. “I am stepping up to give parents who feel helpless a voice,” Capes said. “I believe in open communication and accountability.”

Capes said she does not support police reform that wants to take 10 million dollars that is allocated to school resource officers and use it elsewhere. “We do not have enough officers as it is and I believe sharing of school resource officers is not good enough,” she said, noting that she would like parents to have access to school safety checks and see what was found during walkthroughs and what was done about it. “You would not believe how many times the officers just walked right in an open door because it was caught in a rug or just not closed properly,” she said.

On COVID policy, Capes said she would not support mandatory masking or mandatory vaccines. “I also believe children need to be in the classroom and the hybrid learning has had a detrimental effect on children’s emotional well-being. Because of the schools being closed for so long, many children are too far behind,” Capes added.

Capes is also firm on her position of Critical Race Theory, and does not advocate for CRT, gender diversity studies or oversexualized material being taught in the classroom. “We need to focus on literacy and academics, and children do not need to know their teachers political affiliations,” she said.

Investing in trade programs would be a priority for Capes if elected, “because not every student wants to go to college.” Other parents have expressed concern to her that guidance counselors push college but are not letting high school students explore other options.

“Not only do the parents feel unheard,” said Capes, “the teachers are constantly voicing their concerns. The school board and commissioners need to work together to establish more funding for teachers before they lose good teachers to other counties due to pay.”

Jay Kenty and his wife have been residents of Queen Anne’s County since 1980. Their four children attended elementary, middle, and high school in the county, and now grown, one son currently teaches at Queen Anne County High School. Next fall, Kenty’s grandson will be attending Matapeake Middle School. “My family and I have a vested interest in the future of public education in Queen Anne’s County,” says Kenty.

If elected, Kenty said his first priority as a board member would be to work with the teachers union to retain those dedicated teachers currently on staff and to recruit new teachers to fill those vacancies that result from attrition and retirements. “Part of that goal is to slow the resignations of highly qualified teachers who are opting for second careers outside of teaching or transferring to school districts who have negotiated contracts for the fall of 2022,” Kenty said. “Teachers are the foundation upon which a successful school system is built. Fewer teachers mean larger class sizes.”

Kenty notes, there is also a critical shortage of part and full time substitutes to fill vacancies which adds up to a loss of planning time for teachers who cover classes. In 2020, four year colleges in Maryland awarded 2009 bachelor’s degrees in education. There are not nearly enough graduates to fill the vacancies state wide, he said.

“It is important for voters to know that as of June 5, Queen Anne’s County teachers still did not have a contract for next fall while surrounding jurisdictions do. Even if there were to be a contract in place by the time the newspaper is printed, the county still has lost valuable time in the hiring process due to the impasse.”

Kenty said he looks at Critical Race Theory kind of like indoctrination. Students understand there is a history of racism in this county, he said, noting that the systematic elimination of Native American tribes from this country, the Civil Rights Act, Title IX for equality in athletics for women are among the courses already being taught in Queen Anne’s County. “If you present in a format where students can look at the history and make an informed decision, you don’t need to indoctrinate people,” he said.

Quoting Thomas Jefferson, Kenty said, “The cornerstone of democracy rests on the foundation of an educated electorate.”

He believes public education holds the key to the future of our democracy. “When you vote for the at-large member of the board of education, make a decision that is informed and not based solely on party affiliation.”

“What’s good for teachers is good for the children and good for parents of the community who support public education,” says Kenty.

Kent Laing, who most people know as just Ken, grew up in Delaware, graduating from the Caesar Rodney school district and attending the University of Delaware. He moved to Centreville in 2004 after getting married to Katie whom he met while working at Camp Pecometh. Katie has been an educator in Queen Anne’s County Public Schools since 2003. They have two sons, a set of 10-year-old twins, who attend school in Centreville.

Laing addressed several concerns that the current Board of Education has faced over the last years. The position of board member is non-partisan, but with recent decisions by the Supreme Court, political actions have bled over into the school system.

Laing said he believes in the protections afforded to all people by the United States Constitution and the laws of the State of Maryland. “As a board member, all decisions I will make would be to best support all of our students, regardless on the basis of race, ethnicity, color, age, religion, disability, genetics, ancestry/national origin, marital status, sex or sexual orientation, just as we do in hiring personnel,” Laing said.

“As a school system we need to find better ways to support our minority and LGTBQ+ students so that they all can feel supported and comfortable in our schools.

“We need to listen to all of our students to determine what they are feeling and the needs that they are asking for to help them all navigate our world, in and out of school. I do not believe that it is up to our school system to ever create an environment that any of our students feel alienated and afraid to be who they are. Educators, boards, and others involved in education should not create roadblocks to success,” he continued.

On the position of vaccines, Laing said Maryland COMAR lists what vaccinations are mandatory to attend school, leaving all others as optional and that he would not seek to make any vaccination requirements more inclusive than the state’s required vaccinations.

Parent input should also be a factor in decisions of the school board, Laing notes. “They are a major cog in the wheel of education. I believe that we also need to utilize and weigh all cogs in that wheel equally too: our educators, our students, education norms, financial figures to name a few.”

With the right metrics, right directions, and following highly educated people, mandatory masking can have a place in school, says Laing. “If we ever do anything but err on the side of keeping our students and staff the safest that we can, we are failing all of them.”

Other topics that Laing elaborated on include his stance on biological males using the female restrooms in school, to which he offers his belief that a student should have access to whatever bathroom the family has registered their child’s gender to be at the start of the school year.

If the family deems a change to that registration, says Laing, they should have the opportunity to. Each school should also make gender neutral bathrooms available and as convenient as possible for any student in need.

Tackling Critical Race Theory, Laing said determining the legitimacy of CRT is not for any Board of Education to determine.

When elected to the Board of Education, Laing said it will be his goal to look at any curriculum to be offered and ask questions about each curriculum up for adoption before considering whether that information is best serving the students.

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