The entire slate of school board candidates might be on your party’s ballot on May 18, but don’t be fooled: There are vast differences among those who are vying for party nominations this year.
Candidates running for school board, unlike many other elected offices, are allowed to file on both the Democratic and Republican tickets. That’s because school board director is considered a nonpartisan elected position.
But a closer look at the candidates in several races shows nonpartisanship is not always the case.
Take Elizabethtown Area, for instance. Every candidate in that race, regardless of whether they are registered Democrats or Republicans, filed as a Republican. Only the endorsed Democrats are on the Democratic ballot.
Among those on the Republican ballot: incumbent Republican Jim Read; Republicans Danielle Lindemuth, Stephen Lindemuth and James Emery; and Democrats Kristy Moore, Sarah Zahn and Jagger Gilleland.
The Lindemuths attended the “Stop the Steal” rally on Jan. 6 in Washington, D.C., spreading the false conspiracy that the 2020 election was stolen from Donald Trump. They’ve also drawn attention in recent months for their comments on social media and to the school board criticizing topics from Black Lives Matter and race-related content in the high school curriculum to COVID-19 vaccines and face masks.
The Lindemuths and Read did not return a reporter’s phone calls. Reached by phone, Emery hung up when a reporter identified himself.
Moore, Zahn and Gilleland are taking a much different approach.
“I think the voters have a very clear choice,” said Moore, who chairs the Elizabethtown Area Democratic Committee. “They’re either going to elect people who want to divide us … or they have people like myself and Sarah and Jagger who want to be on the board to represent and fight for every family.”
One of their priorities, Moore said, is protecting neighborhood schools, as the current school board is considering closing two of the district’s elementary schools.
Hempfield School District
One of the major issues in the Hempfield race is how the school board should approach transgender athletes who want to play on the team that matches their gender identity.
All of the candidates filed on both the Democratic and Republican ballots, but, as in Elizabethtown, their views differ.
When asked about how he would handle transgender athletes, Republican and current school board President Michael Donato declined to comment, instead referring to a statement released by the school board in April. That statement says the board will “convene a review” of Hempfield’s athletic policies after some community members “raised important questions about district athletics.”
Donato added that he’s focused on helping Hempfield recover academically and financially from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Democratic candidate Alison Hutchinson said inclusion in athletics and in the classroom are priorities for her and the other endorsed Democrats running.
“It’s rough for kids now,” said Hutchinson, who said she felt called to run for public office after the Jan. 6 insurrection in Washington, D.C., “and we need to make schools a safe place.”
Seasoned incumbents like school board President Nikki Rivera and Vice President Joyce Stephens face challenges from new arrivals.
One of those new arrivals is Republican Michael Landis. He said he’s running because the Republican Party was looking for candidates to go up against the incumbents. Landis said he’s focused on creating a good learning environment for students so they don’t leave to attend private schools or charter schools, and using taxpayer dollars wisely.
For Rivera and the group of endorsed Democrats with which she’s running, their priorities include expanding equity and inclusion throughout the district, keeping future tax increases to a minimum and continuing the recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I really hope that people vote based on what the candidate is going to do … not what letter comes after their name,” Rivera said.