Waughtal: No room for politics on school boards

Haley Waughtal

The push from Republicans in November to openly make school boards partisan has set us back. 

A school board should be nonpartisan, and a school board member’s political affiliations should never be a factor in their decision making. Their job is to provide all students with a quality, challenging education in a safe, supportive environment in which to become lifetime learners.

That’s not happening on Derby’s school board.

According to The Denver Channel only 94 of 1,000 of the largest districts in the country have politically affiliated school board candidates.

Our school board is no exception. 

In the past two months, school board members Michael Blankenship, Andy Watkins and Jennifer Neel – all elected by about 3,000 voters in November – have made comments and decisions that are politically biased regarding a video that principal Tim Hamblin shared about white privilege. 

In emails obtained by KMUW, Neel revealed her thoughts on white privilege. 

“Are we trying to push this divisive information into our schools? I am afraid this (speaking on white privilege) is negatively affecting our culture, both staff and students,” Neel wrote.

The point of being nonpartisan is to keep these kinds of leanings out of the way so board members have a neutral view towards all decisions. When so-called “divisive” topics like this are being discussed, they should strive to be completely unbiased.

Neel, who according to The Derby Informer received 1,688 votes, revealed early on that she is OK with the school board being political in a November email response to student journalists for a story on newly-elected members in The Panther’s Tale newspaper and on Pantherstale.com. 

The question asked was if school board members should be politically affiliated.

Neel’s initial response focused on my Twitter account.

Do you believe the media/journalists should be politically affiliated?” Neel asked in the email. “I briefly glanced through your social media & within five seconds I found you retweeting Bernie Sanders & hating on Donald Trump. Your political affiliation is VERY apparent & may hinder your future interviews if you are hoping to continue in journalism- you may consider reviewing your social media fingerprint…” 

Yet Neel, an elected official, posted a PragerU video on Facebook in February. This conservative website’s video is of a Black man talking down on people who believe white privilege exists. She deleted the post soon after.

In the same response to the email I sent out, Neel was not shy about her political ideologies. 

“I believe in transparency & honesty — I am a Conservative Christian mother — that is my value system but that does not define me. I do NOT blindly follow, I listen to all sides of an issue, I research, critically think & make the best decision. So if that makes me politically affiliated then yes, I would rather people have to be transparent with their belief systems. Problems aren’t solved with fake promises. We need people who say what they mean & mean what they say.”

Neel preaches she sees both sides, yet in two different instances, we’ve seen differently. 

Why are the board’s political affiliations already affecting what we learn about, when these same three board members have only been in office for two months, Andy Watkins for 4 years? 

Thousands of students are counting on fair decisions. But if the board bases decisions off their politics, they are leaving out the people who don’t agree with them. 

I don’t see any critical thinking. Rather, I see a conservative mindset festering in our school board. They must be held accountable.