Parkway School District parents filled a middle school cafeteria for a school board candidate forum Monday night that usually attracts only enough parents to fill a single classroom.
Interest in the race spiked in January, when social media posts by one of the candidates were circulated among parent groups. Several parents said the views expressed on Twitter by Jeanie Ames are racist and out of line with the mission of the west St. Louis County district.
Dozens of people came out to Parkway Central Middle School, and nearly 150 more people watched a livestream online, to hear from the five candidates running for the two open spots on the Parkway Board of Education next month.
Kevin Seltzer, Jonathan Taylor, Matthew Schindler and Amy Bonnett are the other candidates vying to fill two open seats.
The 90-minute forum stayed civil and on topic as the moderator from the League of Women Voters kept audience outbursts to just the occasional clap or laughter. Questions were curated and had to be directed to all candidates, who then had 60 seconds to answer.
The issues hit on key themes in education policy, including school safety and the right of students to hold demonstrations, such as those planned at several schools in the region Wednesday, protesting gun violence.
“I think it’s a great show of unity among the students, voicing their concerns,” Schindler said.
All the candidates called for investments in hardening school entry points. None of them support arming teachers.
“Teachers are there to teach; that’s what they went to school for,” said Taylor.
Candidates were also asked about the districts sexual education curriculum, which was updated last year to be more inclusive of LGBTQ issues amid scrutiny from parents.
“We’ve had this debate already,” said Seltzer. “Everyone had an opportunity to be heard, the district adopted the new curriculum; it’s in place. Parents who wish to opt out can do so. I don’t see this as an issue.”
Ames and Taylor both said it should be easier for parents to opt their children out of sex ed classes. A few candidates, including Bonnett, said lessons should be age-appropriate.
Several questions were submitted about supporting diversity and minority students.
“I think tolerance is an issue more so than civil rights. I think civil rights are yours, they’re indisputable,” Ames said.
Parkway should do a better job boosting minority enrollment in honors-level courses, Bonnett said. She added that out-of-school suspensions — which statistically target minorities more heavily — should be done “carefully.”
“I hope that we apply the same principles and actions to all our students equally,” she said.
Candidates will be listed on the April 3 ballot in the order they registered. The top two vote earners in the open election will win spots on the board.
Follow Ryan on Twitter: @rpatrickdelaney