Debate heats up among candidates in the spring election as the last chance to vote draws near

Differing political and social values among candidates ignites conflict as the Eau Claire school board spring election moves forward to its final general election on April 5

More stories from Allison Hinrichs

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Six candidates remain in the running for the Eau Claire area school board’s three available seats, one of which is the school board presidency position.

The fight for one of the Eau Claire Area School District’s (ECASD) three open positions fell from a seven-person race to a six-person race following candidate Josh Ingersoll’s elimination in a primary held on Feb. 15. 

The six remaining candidates will advance to the general election which is set for April 5.

The candidates include two incumbents — former board president Tim Nordin and UW-Eau Claire professor Marquell Johnson — and four newcomers: registered nurse Melissa Winter, outreach recruitment coordinator Nicole Everson, University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire professor Stephanie Farrar and medical physician Corey Cronrath.

Nordin, a former teacher with a Ph.D. in Education Policy, was elected president of the school board in 2019 after previous President Eric Torres’ resignation. Nordin wrapped up his first term this year.

Nordin said the outcome for this election will be “pivotal” following last year’s strife in the community over school masking mandates.

“There are real differences between the candidates’ views on public schools, on masking, on response to COVID-19 and on how to treat our students,” Nordin said. “In previous years we haven’t seen such wide differences between the candidate’s philosophies, in this case voting in the election will have a real impact.”

After three years in office as the president of the Eau Claire school board, Nordin says he plans to uphold his commitment to support each student’s individual needs and expand prospects toward clean energy in schools.

“Whether (the school board) continues to be a vital source of building up our community, where students feel safe and welcome or whether it’s a place where students are put into separate boxes and not given the services and opportunities that every student deserves,” Nordin said.

The other incumbent running in this year’s spring election is kinesiology professor Johnson. First appointed in May 2020 following former board member Laurie Klinkhammer’s resignation, Johnson has remained on the board ever since.

According to Johnson’s campaign Facebook page, he plans to focus on student and community issues centered around district administration accountability for meeting academic standards.

Johnson also plans to focus on additional learning opportunities for marginalized and low performing students and the implementation of district wide and individual concerns around Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI) training.

“I want to see district-wide training and development that both improves access and reduces stigmatization surrounding students with learning disabilities,” Johnson said.

Johnson is running for a full three-year term.

Newcomer Cronrath is a dual-certified physician with a master’s in public health who said he wants to give back to the community.”https://www.facebook.com/plugins/post

Cronrath, like some of the other new challengers, disagrees with the current school board’s values. In regard to a recently suggested school guideline shared during an Eau Claire School District staff development meeting, Cronrath, Everson and Winter have concerns.

The guideline states that, “parents are not entitled to know their kids’ (sexual) identities. That information must be earned. In ECASD, our priority is supporting the student.”

Cronrath, who is campaigning under traditional and religious values, says the guideline is a direct violation of parent’s rights. 

“Currently, the school board doesn’t think parents have the right to know their children’s identity,” Cronrath said. “The board believes equity is handing out resources to students based on sexual orientation and skin color. That is not equity, it is resource allocation.”

In a joint media statement from Cronrath, Everson and Winter, the three said the guideline expressed “blatant disregard for parental rights and responsibilities.”

In a facebook post on the issue Cronrath claimed, “they train teachers that loving people and not their sin is a microaggression.”

Everson, who serves as a council member for the State of Wisconsin Office for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, says the board should view parents as partners in all areas of the academic environment. 

“Parents and guardians are critical partners and hold primary responsibility and decision making across all areas of academia and welfare,” Everson said. “ECASD is putting teachers in a difficult and dishonest position.”

Candidate Winter, who has remained in Eau Claire most of her life and attended an Eau Claire public school as a child, says that she fears this guideline will create an unsafe environment.

“This is a slippery slope that can carry over to other areas in a student’s life such as mental health, inappropriate relationships, healthcare, diet etc.,” Winter said. “The policy assumes at its baseline that parents do not have the best interest of their child at heart.”

However, not all the new challengers are in agreement. Farrar, both the daughter of a teacher and an educator herself, says every child deserves to thrive and belong at their school.

“I have had friends tell me disturbing stories of physical abuse or worse after coming out to their parents,” Farrar said in a Facebook post. “This is one reason why no one should ever out another person.”

Following the primary, the Eau Claire County Clerk’s Office determined the turnout brought 14.11% of registered voters to the ballot boxes. 

With the general election less than a month away, candidates are urging the community to make their way to the polls on April 5.

“We believe in our district, we believe in our schools. We know we have work to do,” Nordin said. “We are going to settle for anything less than every student feeling safe, welcome and a variety of opportunities.” 

 

Hinrichs can be reached [email protected]