For all the hysteria and headlines, election results from school board races across Northeast Ohio showed voters overwhelmingly supported candidates who supported mask mandates and progressive curriculum changes.
There was a record number of school board candidates across Ohio this year — a 50% increase over 2017 — driven largely by issues that turned once-sleepy and low-key races into contentious, cultural battlegrounds funded by national conservative groups and U.S. Senate candidates
hoping to curry favor with a base whipped into a frenzy over public health and Critical Race Theory.
Of 156 Northeast Ohio school board candidates Scene reviewed, 67 were definitively pro-mask and pro-Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, with 46 winning their races and 21 losing.
Andrey Stojic, a Cleveland Clinic neurologist and first-time candidate who supports Social and Emotional Learning and mask mandates, won the Bay Village school board race with 3,019 votes, more than received by any other candidate, including incumbents.
Three pro-mask/pro-DEI supporters swept the Chagrin Falls School board races, handing defeat to all four anti-mask/anti-DEI candidates. Elections in Bay Village, Cleveland Heights, Mayfield, Nordonia, and Eastlake ended similarly, with pro-mask/pro-DEI candidates sweeping the majority of, or all, available seats.
Candidates who were definitively against mask mandates and DEI won 11 races and lost 25.
North Royalton voted in two newcomers — business owner Jeremiah Sawyer and Cleveland Clinic nurse Lisa Shuck, both anti- mask-mandate and anti-DEI, tossing out incumbents and mask supporters Jackie Arendt and current board Vice President Terry DeLap.
Strongsville, that southern suburb where the state's largest GOP group has proudly hosted the most noxious of Trump's flunkies in the past year for various events, ousted current board member and pro-mask candidate Sherry Buckner-Sallee in big numbers. Newcomers Sharon Kilbane and Hayley Stovcik, both anti-mandate and anti-DEI, received 41.18% and 32.92% of the vote respectively, compared to Buckner-Sallee’s 25.90%.
Incumbents faced the most difficult races: 34 won re-election, 16 did not. Most notably, current Willoughby-Eastlake School Board President Thomas Beal took just 8.45% of the total vote. Beal had been under fire earlier this month
for recommending the dismissal of a beloved middle school principal. Parma School Board President John Schweitzer was also ousted. Steve DiMauro, Alisa Wright, and David Zuro all maintained their seats on the Hudson school board, which has seen more than one
recent curriculum-related controversy.
Of the 156 school board candidates reviewed, 63 were not found to have given exact, definitive statements on issues of DEI and masks. Residents left comments on many candidates’ Facebook election pages asking for “a simple yes or no answer” on their position on the two hot-button issues, showing just how overly simplified the races had become. Some responded, others did not.
Threats against current school board members
prompted some to decide not to run again
, leaving open seats to be taken over by newcomers, many of whom were looking to reverse Covid-related mandates and race-related curriculum changes.
Unhappy with new protocols in safety and education, many parents and other local residents decided to take the matter into their own hands by running for the school boards
themselves, which helped drive the candidate total to record numbers. Nordonia Hills landscaper/business owner Joseph Kopec ran for a seat on the board specifically to stop public health mandates and DEI. (He finished dead last.)
The uptick in new candidacies brought with it an increase in campaign spending and concerns of “dark money” being used to fund it.
The conservative organization FreedomWorks has been running a “school board candidate academy”
this year, training more people in Ohio to run for a school board seat than in any other state
. Though no class list is available to see which candidates were and were not trained in this program, Olentangy School Board candidate Jennifer Feucht, is a known graduate, and received a $5,000 campaign donation from the wife of a conservative Senate candidate, more than most candidates raise in an entire school board election campaign. (Feucht finished 3rd of 4 candidates in her race.)
The divide between voters remains, as partisan group endorsements, both pro- and anti- mask/DEI, aligned almost exactly with many local election outcomes.
The pro- mask/DEI/SEL group “Protect Ohio’s Future,” saw all of its endorsed candidates win in Bay Village, Berea, and Solon, and all the candidates they gave a “thumbs down” in those three races lost. The conservative group “Ohio Values Voters” saw its endorsements in Strongsville and North Royalton sweep their races, and four of their endorsement slates completely shut out, losing all available seats in Mayfield, Chagrin Falls, Bay Village and Berea.
Speaking last week, Richard Lewis, the CEO of the Ohio School Board Association, addressed the record number of candidates
and the probability that local school boards across the state would be filled with new faces.
"It's nothing to be frightened of," he said. "New school board members will bring new and fresh ideas and ask questions that haven't been asked before. Every board member started new at some time."
He said he hoped, however, that new candidates wouldn't be "single-issue" board members.
"It's an enormous task," he said. "The job is to raise the bar on student achievement, provide a world-class education, and help the students succeed and have better lives. If an individual comes in with just a single issue, they're still there for four years, and they need to be prepared to take on the mantle of all these other difficult decisions and different agendas."