National turned local: COVID pandemic causing school board elections to become increasingly divisive, experts say | #coronavirus | #kids. | #children | #schools



While school board elections are not new, the COVID pandemic has turned them into incredibly heated debates over masking and vaccines.

ANKENY, Iowa — Election Day is just over a week away. 

Iowans will have the chance to weigh in on who they want to represent them both at city council and on the school board. 

And while these school board races are not new, political experts say the competitiveness and divisiveness in these races is unique to 2021. A major driving force of the recent change is the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We are increasingly seeing that national issues are infusing themselves into local politics and local school board races,” said Iowa State University Director of the Catt Center for Women and Politics Karen Kedrowski.   

COVID impacted schools across the country. As school boards continue to face decisions on how best to address it, many parents have turned their attention more intensely to these boards and how it impacts their student. 

“The mask mandate is kind of the number one thing that almost every school board election is about,” Drake Associate Political Science Professor Matthew Record said. “And that kind of came down from a top-down nationalized political conversation.”

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These experts say traditionally, school boards were tasked with topics that were mainly non-partisan. Issues like funding, personnel and curriculum. 

However, those topics have taken a back seat on the campaign trails for many school board candidates. 

“We now see that school boards are confronted with really different kinds of issues and ones that have become divisive along partisan lines are just sort of a poster child for that larger phenomenon,” Kedrowski said.

While races may be more contested and filled with much more debate, experts say it’s important voters focus on which candidate has their student’s best interest in mind. 

“Controversial topics come and go,” said Iowa State Education Association Government Relations Specialist Melissa Peterson. “But at the end of the day, the board still has a continuing responsibility to meet the needs of the community and the students that they serve.”

City and school board elections are scheduled for Tuesday, Nov. 2. You can find complete election results from Local 5 at this link.

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