Francis Howell School Board Candidates Talk About Critical Race Theory, Controversial Books

Street. Lewis, Mo. (KMOV) – Francis Howell School District Taxpayers will get a chance to elect two school board members in next week’s election.

Michelle Walker, the treasurer of the board, will not want to be re-elected. Mike Hohen, who serves as vice president of the board, is seeking re-election. Hohen served on the Francis Howell School District Education Board for 12 years.

“I’m really proud of our county, we’re always among the top 10 in the country,” Hohen said. “One of the great things our county has managed to do is keep the kids in school. We were one of a handful of counties that managed to keep the kids in school all the time, personal learning, which is best for most kids to be in class.”

Hohen faces five contestants, many of whom are parents in the county.

Adam Bertrand

Adam Bertrand has four children in the county and he said he was inspired to join the race after attending several school council meetings over the past year and hearing about the county’s finances related to Proposition S, a $ 244 million bond issue approved in June of 2020.

“The more I continued to dig into what the county does and how they operate, the more contradictions I find in what they tell the county compared to what actually happens,” Bertrand said.

Bertrand said he hopes his background in improving processes and a master’s degree in business administration from the University of Washington at St. Louis would be another benefit to the board, if elected.

“You have to have significant financial controls, in my opinion, to manage it, to make sure things are on schedule and things are tracked as they should be, you have to make sure you meet your goals and estimates and if you do not, you have to ask questions,” he said. “All this has not been done, as far as I can tell, and I think it has led in part to where we are now.

News 4 will have more information on the candidate’s opinion on the handling of Proposal S on Thursday at 6 p.m.

Last summer, the Francis Howell School Board voted to approve two new elective classes proposed in the county’s high schools. Both classes, Black History and Black Literature, drew both criticism and praise from teachers, students and parents.

“This is activist training under the guise of black history and black literature that they use in an unhappy framework, in the framework of social justice,” Bertrand said. “We need to teach children how to think, not what to think.”

The curriculum for the courses is published on the district website. Bertrand said he believes certain tenants of critical race theory are taught within the courses.

“I believe it exists in the pockets,” he said. “I don’t think it’s a systematic thing the county is trying to weave into anything. I think it makes its way to schools both through classes like black history and black literature, but also our third-party providers, where they build into the curriculum they bring.”

In the past year, the county has faced five official library book challenges that have been considered controversial by some parents, as they are perceived as having an explicit sexual nature and are not suitable for young children.

“Do we provide children with non-formal sex education that does not comply with state regulations or school policies?” He said. “There is always the potential that can be argued for, that can open us up to legal issues.”

Bertrand said he likes the idea of ​​a system that integrates the student portal with the parent portal, allowing parents to see what their children are checking out of the library. According to a district spokesman, all students have a “Destiny” account, which parents can access and see which items their student has checked. “Furthermore, the county said parents can contact the school librarian to put a note in their child’s account about certain books they do not want them to review.”

The district recently canceled the sixth-grade challenge courses, noting differences in achievement gaps and equality among students. Challenge courses remain in place for seventh and eighth grades.

“There are many ways to succeed in life, and if some of them are gifted, and school is too easy, they do not learn what kind of hard work they have to put in to reach their full potential in life, if we make it too easy,” Bertrand said. “That’s why we have these classes to make them work harder.”

Randy Cook Jr.

Randy Cook Jr. has two children in the county, one of whom recently entered kindergarten. He also said after attending board meetings, he had more questions than answers about the county’s economic situation.

“I started noticing meetings and just noticing that there were some things I thought could be done better, especially around transparency, spending and studies are always my concern,” he said. “I want to make sure they stay at the high level they’ve always been at and not start slipping.”

With a background in engineering, he hopes he can help the district with its processes and finances.

“The new Francis Howell North is what’s been in the news, but there are other Prop S projects that have a substantial over-budget,” he said. “By and large, it could have been handled better in my opinion.”

When it comes to black literature and black history classes, Cook Jr. said he has no objection to the proposals.

“I have a problem with how these specific courses were written and constructed,” he said. “There’s no literature that says teaching things with a critical theory lens that provides a good academic result all the time. We kind of fly near our pants seat.”

Books that have been considered controversial by some parents in recent months, he said, have no place in a public school library.

“In the case of books that have explicit passages and sexual scenes, I don’t think it’s appropriate to keep them in a public school library and I think most taxpayers would agree with that if they read them,” he said.

Both Cook Jr. and Bertrand have won the support of Francis Howell Families, a nonprofit PAC organization that supports academic excellence and transparency.

Christine Heiman

Christine Hyman has two children, one of whom graduated from the county in 2010, the other a first-year student at Francis Howell North. Hyman said her main motivation for running is to improve communication and transparency between the board and the public.

“The more I saw, the more it got worse and the thing became more divisive,” she said. “The things we talk about are what I call ‘flash point problems’ and they just keep us from being productive. I think there are bigger things following an epidemic that we can talk about.”

Hyman points to debates over masking, controversial books and critical race theory as recent controversial issues in the county.

“I do not believe that critical race theory, by definition, is taught in the district,” she said. “What is critical race theory? It is to take everything in society and look at it through another person’s point of view.”

As for books that are considered controversial, Hyman said she sees both sides of the issue.

“I think it’s okay for them to be in the school library. I think the more information you can put in a child’s hands when it comes to reading it’s great,” she said. “At the same time, if a parent does not want his child to read this book, that’s fine.”

She is in favor of a portal that would allow parents to monitor what their children check out of the library, but said he needs a built-in safety measure to protect the children.

“The kids need to know that mom and dad know you checked the book because you do not want to hurt the child,” she said. “By perhaps, going out to a child, if they are reading an LGBT book.”

Justin McCoy

Justin McCoy, a parent of students in the county and a school board candidate, also believes critical race theory is not taught in the county.

“Critical race theory is not taught in the Francis Howell School District, period,” he said. “If we say, we can not talk about it because it is considered a critical race theory, then what do we leave out of our children’s education and what disadvantage will they have in life when they grow up not learning it?”

McCoy said that if elected, he would also like to focus on support and resources for teachers, along with increasing their salaries. By doing so, he said, the county may be able to stop the number of teachers leaving for higher-paying jobs.

When asked if he believes some teachers let their biases or personal opinions interfere with classroom teaching, McCoy said every teacher is likely to see things through a certain lens, but should not be allowed to influence what students learn.

“Over 95 percent of our teachers in our district have no personal agenda,” he said. “They just want to teach the kids and support the students, that’s what brings them joy of life.”

But what about the other 5 percent?

“Any public educator who pushes a controversial personal opinion or belief, I think it’s important that we address that and bring it to our attention and clean up a system where if that continues to happen, those same teachers are reprimanded in some way,” he said.

McCoy supports offering all books in school libraries, but believes parents should get the ultimate supervision.

“These books are designed to provide our children with resources to learn more about social issues, controversial issues and how to interact emotionally with other people,” he said. “But if a parent does not want his child to read a book, he should be able to intervene and have a conversation with them.”

Rick Rice

Rick Rice, who has spent more than 30 years in the transportation industry, said he entered the race to help the county regain control of its finances, especially related to Proposition S. With a degree in economics from UMSL and experience in running his own business, he hopes he gets the opportunity to help.

“I’m used to cutting numbers, figuring out efficiencies, identifying problems and making sure they don’t show up later,” he said.

Social issues are also an important part of the work that needs to be discussed on an ongoing basis, he said.

“I want to hear from parents, teachers and students,” he said. “We need to be able to talk about things, even if they’re uncomfortable. I don’t see any problem with black history and black literature classes.”

Rice supports the creation of a committee made up of students, parents and teachers who decide whether a book should be allowed in a school library.

“They have to decide,” he said. “Parents need to make the ultimate decision about what their children read.”

Mike Hohen

Hohen has served on the Francis Howell School Board for 12 years and said he is proud of what the county has accomplished in the past two years amid the plague.

“We were just a handful of counties that managed to keep the kids in school all the time, to study in person and we know it’s best for most of the kids to be in classes,” he said.

The county is consistently ranked as one of the state’s top school districts, which Hohen said he hopes will continue if re-elected.

“I will always put students before my needs or opinions,” he said.

Hohen said he voted for black history and black literature classes last summer, after several public comment hearings.

“I would do it again,” he said. “However, the main thing is that these are optional courses, they are not compulsory courses and no one has to take these courses.”

Hohen refuted the claim that critical race theory had infiltrated curricula within the county.

“We do not teach critical race theory and we do not have a critical race theory class in our curriculum,” he said. “That’s the best answer I can provide you.”

He said he does not believe in the concept of “forbidden books”, believes that they should be allowed in school libraries. However, he opposes parents making decisions about what their children read.

“I very much support parents’ right to choose or decide which books their children can see or read,” he said. “If they see them as inappropriate, they should have the right to say I do not want my child to read this book or check this book.”

As an incumbent board member, News 4 asked Hohen extensive questions about the handling of Proposition S funds, particularly related to the Francis Howell North project. Hear what he and the other candidates had to say on Thursday night at 6 p.m. On KMOV.

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