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Republican candidates for District 5 BOE seat face-off in debate
BOE debate District 5
Republican candidates for the District 5 seat of the Forsyth County Board of Education Michael Valdes, left, and Erin Knight, right, recently took part in a debate hosted by the Forsyth County Republican Party. - photo by Kelly Whitmire

The Forsyth County Board of Education will soon have a new member to represent District 5 in southeast Forsyth, and recently, voters had a chance to hear from two candidates for the seat.

On Wednesday, April 20, the Forsyth County Republican Party hosted a debate at the Forsyth County administration building between candidates Mike Valdes and Erin Knight, who will face off in the May 24 general primary. The winner of the Republican primary will face Democrat Elaine Padgett in November.

During the debate, candidates gave opening and closing statements and alternated giving the first answer to debate questions. 

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:

·         Monday, April 25; state House District 24; Forsyth County Administration Building, 100 E Main Street;

·         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.


In recent months, a nationwide debate has broken out about materials in schools and what students are being taught, which has included debates over critical race theory, or CRT, a scholarly body of work that theorizes different aspects of American life and societal systems are based in discriminatory practices, and whether, and whether it is being taught in local schools.

Valdes, a construction engineer, said he does not believe CRT is being taught in Forsyth schools but elements that are in CRT have made it to schools, such as concepts on equity in the school’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, or DEI, plan and training for teachers.

“Is it some type of conspiracy to push critical race theory onto our children,” Valdes said. “No. It’s a changing world, a changing dynamic. there are national issues that find their way into our classroom, and we need to be open-eyed and non-naïve and not say, ‘This is not happening here.’ It has happened here, it may not have been on purpose, but let’s be real and address it.”

During her response, Knight, an independent reading specialist, said she was largely in favor of the DEI and social-emotional learning, or SEL, but wanted to see anything with elements of CRT removed.

“If there is evidence of CRT in our curriculum, whether it’s DEI or SEL, and I think that those should be looked at on an individual basis. I do believe, however, that DEI and SEL do have their place in our schools. Now, those instances of CRT or any divisive ideologies that are embedded into those programs need to be weeded out.”


Parental concerns

Another ongoing debate in schools is the role of parents, and earlier this year, Senate Bill 449, known as the Parents Bill of Rights, was approved by the Georgia General Assembly and will allow parents the right to review curriculum and other instructional material for their children’s classes during the first two weeks of every nine-week grading period.

During the debate, the candidates were asked about the school system responding to parents’ concerns.

Valdes said, when reaching out to school officials, he almost always receives an answer but it “the problem is in the quality of response.”

“I think that if the school system started giving quality responses, not ticking a box, saying ‘we responded,’ no, we responded in a quality manner that addresses the actual concern and gives parents and expectation of when this is going to be resolved, you are going to see the temperature come down,” “There is nothing more frustrating in the world than knowing 75% of your taxes goes to a school system that gives you boilerplate answers and months and months go by and you never get anything resolved

Knight also said she has not had an issue getting responses but felt school board members should have the same requirements to respond to parents as teachers.

“I do agree that parents deserve a response via email,” Knight said. “I know that teachers, when I was a teacher, we were required to respond within 24 hours, so I feel like the board also has that responsibility to respond to community members in that same period. I have never had an issue with anybody not responding to me, but yes, I do feel that is the expectation that should be [in place].”


Major issues

Along with more specific questions, both candidates were asked what they saw as major issues facing the school system.

Valdes said along with CRT, the growth of the school system and losing school staff, were major issues for him.

“Another big risk, I think, is how we’re losing staff,” “If you look at some of the data in the system, 57% of outgoing staff, teachers, fall in the 11-20-year experience bracket, and 59% of incoming teachers have less than five years’ experience. So, if you take that for what it is, we’re swapping veteran teachers for new teachers. That’s going to have a long-term detrimental effect on the quality of education.”

Knight agreed with Valdes and said teacher pay and bringing employees to the county were among her biggest issues, as was having a holistic reading program to identify and help students with dyslexia.

“Dyslexic students are not screened in our schools. There is a big population of dyslexic students in our school system, and it’s not recognized as a disability,” Knight said. “Having screening for K-3 students and having interventions for dyslexic students elementary, middle and high school is also something that is very important for me, and I think would make a huge improvement for our schools."