Oct 17, 2021 2 mins, 24 secs

The Blue Valley School District in Johnson County, Kansas, boasts some of the top public high schools in the state.

Generally, candidates for the school board sail to victory unopposed, while turnout is a meager single-digit percentage of all eligible voters.

"Very sleepy, very sedate," said Andrew Van Der Laan, who is running for one of three contested seats on the school board in the Nov.

But in past months, a school board meeting went virtual because of safety concerns after reported threats were made as dozens of people gathered to oppose the district's mask policy.

In August, a group called The 1776 Project PAC said it was endorsing the slate of Blue Valley candidates running against Van Der Laan and two other candidates with shared interests.

The Blue Valley School District, which has a student population of almost 22,000 and is 70 percent white, says critical race theory is not part of its district-approved curriculum.

The leader of Mask Choice 4 Kids, Tana Goertz, said the group plans to endorse school board candidates this week.

Cindy Holscher, a Democrat from Johnson County, said school board meetings have become a "bastion of harassment" against members who sought to uphold the countywide mask mandate recommendation for children in kindergarten through grade six — instituted over the summer as the delta variant surged and public health officials affirmed that wearing masks can help slow the spread of the coronavirus.

The Blue Valley School District's requirement for masking now includes all grades through high school.

The school board races "feel more like what we've seen for these state Legislature campaigns in terms of boots on the ground," Holscher said?

At a Blue Valley candidates forum last week, topics surrounding critical race theory; diversity, equity and inclusion; and the district's mask policy and Covid-related protocols took center stage.

Behnken, who is Black and the only person of color on the Ames Community School District's board, said that while one upside is it seems like more people are interested in the board's work, there's also more at stake on broader issues like classroom and learning equity for all students?

Erica Massman, a parent who is on the steering committee of one nonpartisan community organization, Stand Up Blue Valley, said it once felt like no matter where your political allegiance lay, everyone could agree that they wanted to protect the district's public schools — the "golden goose" that keeps property values high and attracts businesses and jobs, she added — from being underfunded or losing top-tier teachers

But she worries that "dark money" and outside influence may try to undermine that by supporting school board candidates with a different agenda

Stand Up Blue Valley is backing Van Der Laan and two other candidates who have expressed support for masking initiatives that follow public health officials' recommendations

A third candidate dropped out of the school board race in September, although her name will remain on the ballot


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