National attention, local election: Central York board election Tuesday

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HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) — On some basic facts, the opponents agree. But on the details? Well, that’s what elections are for.

Central York School District’s election Tuesday for six board seats comes after attention around the country and beyond for — depending on whom you believe — either a controversial book ban or an exaggeration of the issue by political opponents.

“We were interviewed by a Japanese newspaper as well, so it’s international,” Joel Folkemer said. He is one of four Democrats running on a slate called “Citizens for Central York School District.”

Three Republican candidates, out of the six running, form a slate called “Citizens for Central York.” abc27 News spoke with both sides about four key issues that divide them:

1. The book ban, or the “book ban”

In quotes or not? The two sides disagree.

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“The title of the email was ‘banned book list,’ and it says in the email, which is public and seen and out there, that these resources were not allowed to be used in the classroom,” Folkemer said.

No one disputes that. The email came from a principal.

“There was a principal who sent out an email – yes, exactly,” Jeff Piccola said, chairman of the York County Republican committee. “A staff member sent out an email calling it a ‘ban.’ And it was not a ban.”

Piccola said the board, not administrators, sets policy – and the board never banned the books.

“There are book lists out there that the board, doing its due diligence, likes to review. And every school district does that if they’re exercising their authority properly,” Piccola said. “In fact, subsequent to the tabling of the list for review, the board approved it.”

“They finally had the pressure from the international and national news, and they reversed course,” Folkemer said.

2. The masking debate

Amy Milsten, a Democrat running on the progressive slate, says her experience not only as a substitute teacher in CYSD schools — but also as a biologist who has worked in virology testing — would be useful on a board that voted against a mask mandate.

Folkemer said he believes in parental choice, but “I also believe strongly that there are public health issues that exist, and there are many different ways in which we protect each other and protect our community” and disagrees with a decision “to blatantly ignore leaders in science. Doctors.”

Piccola said the board did its job.

“I believe these folks are in the mainstream in terms of the mask issue,” he said. “They would rather see the local officials, the local school board members, decide that issue. In fact, Governor Wolf was for that up until late August. Then all of a sudden he changed his mind.”

“I think that issue is emblematic of what you call ‘local control,'” Piccola added. “That is, school board members are elected to do what they believe is in the best interest of the parents and the students in their districts.”

3. The role of teachers in the decision-making process

In a world with more questions than ever, “I believe our teachers and administrators have a lot of the answers,” Milsten said. “And a lot of those answers lie within the curriculum changes they have proposed.”

“I feel the district’s board should partner with and trust the administration and teachers but also be willing to pose the necessary tough questions in representing our parents and taxpayers,” said Tim Strikler, an incumbent Republican running for re-election on the Citizens for Central York Slate.

“Teachers and especially teachers’ unions do not run the school,” Piccola said. “Unfortunately the left, and the Democratic party, is just tied up by the state teachers’ unions.”

4. Whether a more racially diverse board is necessary to represent a diverse community

“I’m very excited that we have people of color who are running with us,” Milsten said. “We have Corey, who is right next to me” during an interview at Cousler Park. “It’s been a very long time since we’ve had the voice of people of color on our board that represent that different mindset, that different culture, that different upbringing.”

Corey Thurman is a Democrat who is also a former pitcher with the York Revolution and — for parts of two seasons — the Toronto Blue Jays.

“We’re talking about people from different backgrounds, different cultures, different creeds, and different religious backgrounds that make up what our district is about,” Thurman said.

He said his baseball background would help him on the school board.

“Being a pitcher, my shortstop needs to make sure they’re able to pick up the ground ball and throw it to first,” Thurman said. “And then what happens if the first baseman has to pick it out of the dirt? We all have to do our job. We do that, and we make a great team.”

Piccola disputed the idea that board members need to look more like the people they represent.

“This idea that we’re supposed to pigeonhole people is actually kind of divisive because it pits one group against the other,” he said. “And that’s not what America, or York County, for that matter, is all about.”

A fourth member of the Citizens for Central York School District slate, Rebecca Riek, was unavailable to attend the interview because of her teaching schedule. A third member of the Citizens for Central York slate, Faith Casale, couldn’t be reached.

Gemma, who provided a written statement, added:

I am convicted to work towards healing our district after the recent changes and bumps in the road over the last 18 months.
I will work to put children first in all of my discussions and decisions.
I will fight for wholesome curriculums.
I will reject critical race theory.
I will push back on government overreach every time.
I welcome and seek community engagement from parents and tax payers.
I will fight for our right to hold on to local control of our school district.
I am committed to full oversight and transparency on spending and curriculum. Parents have every right to see and know what their children are learning and taxpayers must be informed on all spending.
I am committed to ensuring a well-rounded education for all students and making sure all opportunities are offered to all students.
I am committed to making sure all students are ready for the next adventure in life after graduation no matter what they choose to do.

Strickler, who provided a written statement, said he’s focused on five key areas:

  1. Restoring district academic excellence, with refocus on core academics.
  2. Keeping political and social agendas out of our classrooms, as we should teach children how to think, not what to think.
  3. Improving fiscal transparency and responsibility for wise fiscal decisions, something I’m currently doing by chairing the newly-created board finance committee.
  4. Improving district transparency for parents and protecting parental choice.
  5. Protecting legally-rightful local control of our school district.

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