Arlington ISD candidates say hot-button issues are distractions, but their opponents disagree
The race for two Arlington school district seats has centered around higher teacher salaries and filling learning gaps caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. However, these contests haven't been immune to local politics and national discussions about race and sexual orientation in the classroom and on library shelves.
School board incumbents Justin Chapa and David Wilbanks received blowback last fall from board meeting attendees when they proposed extending mask mandates and joining other school systems in suing Gov. Greg Abbott over his executive order limiting COVID-19 pandemic protocols.
Come election season, one of Chapa's campaign signs was vandalized by someone who wrote the phrases "pedophile sympathizer," "CRT proponent" and "mask mandate advocate" around his name.
Chapa is running against Kelly Burke, who ran last year for Arlington mayor. Burke denounced the vandalization in an interview.
"It shows disrespect for our city and it shows disrespect for our election process," Burke said.
Wilbanks is running against Daphne Jackson and Anita Scott. Jackson, Scott and Burke have received support from Conservatives.
Scott said at a recent forum hosted by Young Men for Arlington that she opposes any books or lessons that deepen divides among people of different races, ethnicities or gender identities. Jackson said she would prioritize eliminating lessons that supposedly teach "critical race theory."
Jackson said at the forum she supports improving campus security measures, giving parents a voice in books on shelves and keeping CRT out of classrooms.
Burke has campaigned on addressing violence on campus, keeping political agendas out of classrooms and having more opt-in options for parents.
“I believe that also would make parents more involved in education,” Burke said. “They’ll be more involved in their kid’s learning process, and it probably would help the kid progress a lot further because the parent would care a little bit more.”
Burke says he is anti-CRT, but supports teaching accurate history lessons.
All five candidates have said at debates that they support pay increases for teachers and pandemic recovery. They’re split on remarks about critical race theory and banning books, as well as the district’s performance in shoring up learning losses. Chapa and Wilbanks have reminded people during debates that state law allows parents to opt out of instruction or materials that are deemed age inappropriate.
Wilbanks says he's told parents concerned about what's going on in their children's classrooms to volunteer in schools.
"Please be the eyes and ears, but do so while you're doing positive and good to help get these kids back on track and then we'll take a look at it," Wilbanks said.
Chapa said conversations about what’s best for students can take a backseat when focusing on hyper-partisan national issues. Also in the political discourse, he says, is an ongoing legal dispute between the school district and RJ Construction, who sued AISD last summer over an unsettled winter storm repair bill.
“All this other stuff about contractor disputes and CRT, that really has, at the end of the day, nothing to do with the kids,” Chapa said. “Those are adult issues, adult conceptions, of what is going on. From my perspective, what matters is what’s happening in the classroom to help our kids recover from the pandemic.”
Burke says he does not condone the vandalism or appreciate the contentious nature that comes with the hyper-partisan talking points. However, he believes partisanship should be a part of all elections, and the topics that inevitably come up in forums and interviews must be addressed.
“In order to educate the voter, you have to educate them about who you really are,” Burke said.
City Council elections
Arlington residents will pick two council members to represent the entire city. At-large District 7 Council member Victoria Farrar-Myers is terming out after six years on council. Cyndi Golden, a nurse anesthetist and member on Arlington’s Unity Council, and Bowie Hogg, a business executive and longtime Arlington school board member, are running to take her place.
First-term District 6 Arlington City Council member Ruby Faye Woolridge isn't running again. She ran for Tarrant County Commissioner’s Court, Precinct 2 in the March primary but was unsuccessful. Candidates in the District 6 race are:
- Long Pham, a claims supervisor
- Chris “Dobi” Dobson, who is self-employed
- Joshua Taylor, a life coach
- Albert Parra, an oncologist
The two single-district council members up for reelection are running unopposed. Helen Moise, who has represented north Arlington on District 1 for four years, is seeking a third and final term. First-term District 2 Council member Raul Gonzalez is seeking a second.
Tarrant County voting runs from 7 a.m. until 7 p.m. Saturday. Polling location information is available at tarrantcounty.com.
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