Election 2021: Douglas County school board election shapes up

Two slates emerge in races for four director seats


The field is set for this fall’s Douglas County School Board elections, where two slates have emerged to square off for four seats on the board — a majority on the seven-member board.

While one slate is asking voters to let them take the district in a similar direction as current board members, the other is saying it’s time for new leadership.

The candidates are not only aiming to help govern the district amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic but also after national debates about equity in education took place at the local level in past months.

Incumbents Krista Holtzmann and Kevin Leung are seeking reelection while running alongside Ruby Martinez and Juli Watkins in the CommUNITY Matters slate. The four are asking voters to “keep the positive momentum going” in DCSD, according to the slate’s website.

Sitting board members bring a track record of academic achievement, a decrease in teacher turnover and financial investment in mental health resources for schools, the group says.

The Kids First slate is made up of Mike Peterson, Becky Myers, Christy Williams and Kaylee Winegar. The candidates say they’ll focus on issues including academic performance in the district, students’ mental and physical safety and securing competitive pay. Concerned with the district’s governance in recent months, candidates said they felt a call to action in choosing to run.

Within the context of COVID-19 debates, in-person learning and pandemic precautions like masking have been a focal point.

Tensions flared at recent public meetings as some people called for the repeal of masking mandates in schools, while others urged the district to stay its course in requiring face coverings. Board members say public feedback submitted to them has shown a near-even split between people who support and oppose masking.

And as DCSD transitioned between remote, hybrid and in-person learning throughout the pandemic, board directors faced a range of criticism — from people who said they were not doing enough to keep children in in-person learning and others who said returns to hybrid or in-person came too soon.

The CommUNITY Matters slate says it is prioritizing “safe, in-person learning,” committing to listening to public health experts and COVID-19 data in deciding which pandemic precautions to take.

“My top priority would definitely be to ensure that our students and our staff continue to have in-person learning in a safe environment,” Watkins said.

Martinez was not immediately available for comment. Her website says COVID-19 response is one of her priorities.

“As a registered nurse, I follow the Centers for Disease Control and its recommendations,” her website says. “My goal is to keep our children, teachers and staff as safe as possible using the most up-to-date information available.”

But as some people chastised the district for policies like mask mandates or not instating full in-person learning, many vowed to “remember in November.” Kids First says it will ensure “the in-person learning experience honors parent expectations.”

“I think I would have pushed more for in-person learning. I know an excuse they had was they couldn’t come up with substitute teachers, and I would have pushed for something creative to happen,” Winegar said.

Peterson said he would revisit the district’s policy requiring it follow state and local health agency guidance, a policy the district stuck to recently as Douglas County Commissioners opted the county out of a health department masking mandate for schools.

“I would start as a board member to redefine that policy, to say we’ll be in ‘close collaboration,’” he said.

After the school board passed a policy in March promising to make equity — or giving people of all backgrounds the resources they need to attain an education — a district priority, more debates erupted in the district.

People opposed to the equity policy said it would usher in divisive curriculum and practices. Kids First has promised to “remove adult politics” from schools and focus on basics. Reading. Writing. Arithmetic.

Myers said there was not enough transparency leading up to the equity policy adoption and she does not think the district has provided clear answers about how it is being implemented.

“I’m not against it. I’m not for it. I just think there are other things we need to focus on,” she said. “That would be down on my bottom list.”

Williams stressed every child deserves a sense of belonging and a welcoming culture in school, but that she believes “the equity policy has taken away from where our focus should be.”

The policy was welcomed news for people who hoped it would mean the district will better serve all people, like those with disabilities or students of color. CommUNITY Matters candidates plan to continue working on equity in education.

Holtzmann said implementation of district policy falls to the superintendent, who outlined his plan for “intentional equity” over the summer.

“That was the purpose of the policy, which was not to do anything new, but to intentionally focus on each student,” she said.

Leung said equity is critical in classroom learning and school funding and a priority for him as a candidate. Equity has been mischaracterized, he said, often conflated with the legal theory called critical race theory, or CRT.

“We never taught critical race theory. It’s just propaganda to fire people up,” he said. “I hope people can separate politics and policy and truly understand what’s going on.”

Here’s a breakdown of school board elections by district.

District B

Mike Peterson

Juli Watkins

District D

Ruby Martinez

Becky Myers

Justin Mathew

District E

Kevin Leung

Christy Williams

District G

Krista Holtzmann

Kaylee Winegar


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