Ten people have applied to replace Brad Fiscus on the Williamson County School Board.

On Wednesday exactly half of them discussed their positions on COVID-19 mask mandates and whether public schools at the K-12 level should teach Critical Race Theory (CRT).

When it comes COVID-19 mask mandates in public schools, Bridget Parkes spoke to The Tennessee Star by phone, while the rest of the candidates either spoke via text or email.

Those candidates said the following about COVID-19 mask mandates:

• Bridget Parkes: “My stance is that I believe it is the parents’ choice if their child should be in a mask. It is between them and their doctor. If they think it is in the best interests of their child then their child should wear a mask, but if a parent believes after consulting their doctor that their child does not need to be in a mask then it should be up to the parents’ to make that decision and not the school system.”

• Edina Kishonthy: “Having read several studies, I personally saw no evidence that masks worn by children prevent the transmission of Covid in the school setting. That being said, many parents are genuinely anxious about Covid and believe that masks can prevent the transmission. Parents who don’t want to mask their children, on the other hand, are not afraid of Covid and they also don’t believe masks are effective in controlling the spread; moreover, they point out the negative emotional and health-related effects of mask-wearing for children. These two sides will never agree and both feel threatened by the other. My solution would be to split children into masked and non-masked classes within each school, and keep the two cohorts as separate as possible during the school day. This would simply entail a surveying parents about mask preference, class re-assignment as needed, and some logistical organization about student movement in the school during the day.”

• Elliott Franklin: “The health and safety of the students, while they are in public school buildings has always been important. Prior to covid, there were seasons when certain schools would close for a day or two when their attendance dropped below a set level. While not ideal, this seemed to work well. We have seen that many students do not learn well through virtual technology and need to be in person to fully grow in their skills and knowledge and I think most everyone on both sides of this issue agree with that. If you look at the spikes in WCS cases, they always tend to come after various external events (school holidays, etc). As such, masks in the school would not have prevented the increase. Placing all of our focus on this one area takes precious resources away from long term planning. If covid is here to stay, my goal would be to create a strategy for moving forward that would include focus groups and input from faculty, students and parents. I believe that much of the frustrations seen at the recent meetings are due to parents not seeing a long-term strategy so they are confused as to what the end goal really is.”

• Peter Stresser: “I agree with Governor Lee when he said, ‘Parents should be the ones who decide. Parents know what is best for their children and should have the last word on health and welfare for their children.’”

• Timothy Malone: “My opinion based on personal research, medical experience, and conversations with occupational health professionals is that wearing cloth or non-surgical grade/ non N95 masks can reduce the susceptibility of a virus for the wearer. Viral droplets from an infected person can and do easily pass through and around the edges of a non-sealed, ill-fitted, or improperly worn barrier device. If a person chooses to wear a mask for their self-protection or to limit potential exposure, I fully support that opinion. I also completely support the right of individuals to opt-out of masks mandates and feel it is inappropriate for anyone to force people to participate in a policy that cannot even be agreed upon in the scientific community.”

When it comes to CRT, the candidates said the following:

• Bridget Parkes: “I am opposed to teaching critical race theory. To be clear, I am not opposed to teaching history. It is important to teach history to make sure history doesn’t repeat itself. However, history needs to be presented to children and young people in the correct context and at an appropriate age level. They should never be taught, or taught in a way that leads to believe, that one’s race is superior to another or a person is limited somehow because of race.”

• Edina Kishonthy: I don’t like to use big words, especially when their definition is up for debate. However, I would like to say the following on this subject: I would like to see WCSD choose an ELA curriculum that actually focuses on English (literature, grammar, writing, reading, vocabulary, etc) instead of an endless string of dark stories on the theme of one race / ethnicity oppressing members another group. I believe that the history of the United States needs to be taught truthfully, including all the negatives about colonization, slavery, etc. — and the Tennessee Social Studies Standards actually require that they be taught as such. Just a few examples: Grades 3 – 5: 4.01 Analyze the impact of conflicts between colonists and American Indian nations brought on by the intrusions of colonization. Fifth grade: 5.41 Identify how the rise of vigilante justice (e.g., Ku Klux Klan), black codes, and Jim Crow laws impacted Tennessee and the nation. (T.C.A. § 49-6-1028) etc.  I could go on, but suffice it to say that the themes regurgitated by the Wit and Wisdom curriculum are discussed in every grade in Social Studies, so saturating English classes with these topics is overdoing it. And while we are on Social Studies: it must present history from a politically neutral stance. There has been a lot of time and energy spent recently by certain political forces attempting to put their own ‘spin’ on historical events in order to further their own agenda of getting and maintaining power. Materials inspired by such efforts have no place in our public schools.”

• Elliott Franklin: “Regarding CRT, this should be studied and reviewed like any other curriculum decision. I strive to take the emotions and politics out of a discussion and focus on the goals. One of the reasons that I have been successful in my career is due to mentoring and coaching from a diverse group of individuals. Schools can only focus on a set number of topics and goals in the time they have each day with our students. For a community to be successful, parents have to play an active part in being a role model to their children. Just like with any skill, there is learning the theory and then seeing it modeled in action. If schools focus on the core academics such as STEM and partner with community programs and parents for the life skills topics, I believe this is a win-win.”

• Peter Stresser: “I support the law that was passed earlier this year (HB 0580 | SB 0623) which states that Tennessee’s teachers can’t instruct that ‘an individual, by virtue of the individual’s race or sex, is inherently privileged, racist, sexist, or oppressive, whether consciously or subconsciously.’”

• Timothy Malone: “Wit and Wisdom, sometimes referred to as CRT is a misstep by the educational system and those individuals charged with educating the future leaders of tomorrow. World and US history are very important, and students need to learn the good, bad, and ugly. Their take or perception of history should not be positively or negatively influenced by the curriculum or educator. It should give the student relevant and factual information needed to form their own opinion. Children are born innocent, with love and kindness in their hearts. It is the adult population that poisons their minds.”

The remaining candidates are Josh Brown, Aaron Greeno, Michael Eric Miller, Anita Aluotto, and Seth Yu. They did not return The Star’s requests for comment before Wednesday’s stated deadline.

The Williamson Herald reported that the Williamson County Board of Commissioners are scheduled to choose a nominee at their October 11 meeting.

Fiscus stepped down from the Williamson County School Board in August.

– – –

Chris Butler is an investigative journalist at The Tennessee Star. Follow Chris on Facebook. Email tips to chrisbutlerjournalist@gmail.com.
Photo “Brad Fiscus” by Brad Fiscus.