A current member of the Forsyth County school board and a challenger for the seat discussed issues facing local schools at a recent debate.
On Wednesday, April 20, the Forsyth County Republican Party hosted a debate at the Forsyth County Administration Building between Republican candidates for the District 1 seat on the Forsyth County Board of Education between incumbent Wes McCall and challenger Dennis Scheidt.
McCall and Scheidt will face off in the May 24 primary, and the winner will face Democrat Janna Kregoski in November’s election for the seat, which represents northwest Forsyth County.
Forsyth County Republican Party Chairman Jerry Marinich served as the debate’s moderator, and the party will host debates for other local races in the coming weeks.
All debates will begin at 6:30 p.m. and will be held on:
· Wednesday, April 27; state House District 28, Forsyth County Administration Building;
· Thursday, April 28; Forsyth County Commission District 1; Forsyth County Republican Party Headquarters, 510 Lake Center Parkway, Ste. 103;
· Tuesday, May 3; state House District 100, Forsyth County Republican Party Headquarters.
Major issues facing schools
Before getting into specific questions, Marinich’s first question was the candidates saw as the major issues facing Forsyth County schools.
Scheidt, a retired executive officer, said transparency by the school system was a major issue for some parents, who feel like their concerns are not heard or listened to.
“I think transparency and getting back with people and answering their questions is going to be the biggest factor in restoring trust back to the school system among parents,” he said. “And that doesn’t mean that every concern they have is going to be met by the school system because it won’t, you can’t please all of the people all of the time, but you can communicate with all of the people all of the time.”
McCall, an emergency management consultant who was first elected in 2018, said he felt one of the biggest issues in schools was “transitioning back from COVID to face-to-face [learning] and getting back into the rhythms of our schools.”
“There were a lot of adjustments from the federal level and the state level with the board of education to help the transition,” McCall said, “and I think that Forsyth County is ahead … on that, so I think that with aligning our grading, aligning our accountability to our students and aligning our curriculum back to where we can hold them accountable and have a standard is where we need to be.”
Over the last year, the school system’s social-emotional learning (SEL) and diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) programs have been a source of debate among nationwide arguments on critical race theory (CRT) and whether it is or should be taught in schools.
During the debate, candidates were asked their thoughts on the program, which was identified as a key component of a five-year strategic plan for schools.
McCall said the plan was formed by members of the community, and the response to students’ mental and emotional struggles should be county-wide.
“The other part of that goal for social and emotional learning is to build outside resources and partners,” he said. “The school system can’t do it by themselves, so that’s in there. Just to focus on the SEL is not the right approach. It’s the overall strategic plan, and all the goals support each other, and it wasn’t created by me, it was created by the people in the community.”
Conversely, Scheidt said programs should be in place for students going through social or emotional issues, but should not be a focus for all students.
“To me, that’s wrong,” Scheidt said. “The number one priority in school ought to be how to teach kids how to read, write, do arithmetic, that sort of thing. School systems are not primarily in the business of social and emotional learning.”
Books in schools
One of the biggest recent debates in front of the board of education has dealt with books in schools that some parents and local groups have said are inappropriate for students.
During the debate, the candidates were asked what policies should be in place for parents to keep books from students that contain sexual ideas and content that parents do not want them exposed to, such as LGBT issues.
Scheidt said, under state law, public and school libraries are allowed to let students check out books they would not be old enough to purchase and he would like to see that end.
“To really fix this, one of the things that will have to happen will be that the legislature will have to take that exemption out for school libraries,” Scheidt said. “I think that parents are the ones who really should be the ones who censor what their kids do, so the question is how do parents do it? First of all, I think we need to get rid of the really bad ones that are there.”
He added that a process should be in place to go through and remove controversial books.
McCall said when the issue reached board members, a policy had been in place but was inefficient for dealing with the matters.
He said since then, a new process had been put in place and new state Senate Bill 226 will help with the process for removing materials.
“These books, inappropriate material, absolutely we’re against them,” McCall said. “The goal should be to remove the books forever, not for a judge to come back and tell you to put them back on the shelf.”