Intense conflict has abounded at school board meetings across the nation in recent years as parents have sparred over COVID mask policies, teachings on race relations and approaches toward LGBTQ issues.
We’re pleased that the Indiana House of Representatives failed to add another layer of friction this week by effectively killing a bill that would have allowed the state’s nonpartisan school board elections to become partisan affairs.
Sadly, that doesn’t mean the issue is going away. Some conservative Republican lawmakers seem intent on bringing the idea back, possibly even this year, to allow school board candidates to run under party labels.
We think it’s an ill-conceived notion, especially as it was proposed this year.
House Bill 1428, authored by Rep. J.D. Prescott, R-Union City, would have allowed each of the state’s nearly 300 school districts to hold voter referendums to decide whether to require candidates to declare a political party or independent status.
That would have resulted in a confusing and unnecessary patchwork across the state, with some school boards turning partisan and others keeping the status quo. But we also object to the bill’s basic move to further inject partisan politics into what are already volatile school board debates.
What ultimately doomed the bill, however, was the House GOP’s disagreements over whether to have school board candidates go through party primaries or only be listed by political party on the November general election ballot, the Associated Press reported.
“It’s hard to find that sweet spot,” House Speaker Todd Huston told reporters on Monday. “We didn’t quite get it this year.”
We believe the only sweet spot is to drop the idea. Parents who are not overtly partisan or political should be allowed to run for school board without having to declare a political party preference or be beholden to party bosses pushing a particular political agenda.
Supporters of the move suggest that adding an R or D behind a candidate’s name will make election choices more transparent. We believe it’s hard enough to enlist qualified school board candidates without forcing them to add another pressure point to the many others they already must face.
Just consider all the tumult that Carmel Clay Schools board members had to endure in 2021, when members of the public interrupted board meetings by reading from school library books they found objectionable or presented other lengthy statements.
At one meeting, a man was arrested after a gun fell from his pocket. The board then added metal detectors to screen future meeting attendees and temporarily suspended public comment.
Adding explicitly partisan politics to make school boards more like a bitterly divided Congress certainly isn’t going to calm the situation. Partisan politics at the state and national levels already have caused deep enough divisions among the citizenry, and there’s no need to do more to spread the discord.
That’s why Indiana should stay among the 41 states that require nonpartisan elections for school boards, and the Legislature should abandon the idea altogether.