Candidates for Alexandria School Board primary state their case
About 80 people attended the hour-long event to hear Jeff Patience, Maureen Eigen and Jeremy Smith answer questions about why voters should choose them in the Aug. 10 primary. The top two vote-getters will be on the ballot for a special election on Nov. 2.
During a public forum at Cornerstone Church Tuesday night, three candidates for Alexandria School Board answered questions about critical race theory, sex education, the possibility of future mandates for face masks and vaccines, what improvements they’d make in the school district and more.
About 80 people attended the hour-long event to hear Jeff Patience, Maureen Eigen and Jeremy Smith make their case on why voters should choose them in the Aug. 10 primary. The top two vote-getters will be on the ballot for a special election on Nov. 2.
They introduced themselves and answered nine questions – six written by themselves and others posed by Pastor Darryl Knappen, who moderated the forum.
The candidates shared similar views on most of the issues. They all hope that the district won’t have to deal with masks and other pandemic mandates this fall, for instance, but there were differences in the details.
Patience said he has been vaccinated but does not support mandatory vaccinations. He said that should be a personal choice. He said that the hybrid model of learning during the pandemic was the best solution for the situation and gave students the opportunity to be in school and interact with teachers and friends 50% of the time. He said the science that went into the requirements were well thought out.
Eigen said she is against mandatory vaccinations and favors health freedoms and personal choice. She also said masks are not effective because the virus can move through the mask. She said social distancing requirements were not supported by science. She said that people are created well and have the ability to be healthy and grow.
Smith said wearing masks should be a choice and said a study has shown that breathing carbon dioxide poses a health risk. He said that children should be allowed to create bonds with other children and teachers in a more relaxed atmosphere. He said vaccine decisions are between a family and their doctor and should be kept private. He said the pandemic precautions in schools were based on fear, not science, and that it robbed students of experiencing important events like homecoming and graduation.
Differences also emerged in the discussion of critical race theory, or CRT, an academic concept that proposes that racism is a social construct, not just the product of individual bias or prejudice, but something embedded in legal systems and policies.
Patience said he’s not an expert on the topic but he said it’s still just a theory and should be taught at the college level, not in middle school or high school. He said the concept needs to be researched, examined and tested before it’s taught in schools. He added he would vote not to allow it because the Minnesota Department of Education has not approved it. If a teacher does teach it, he said the school board should take the issue up with the superintendent and reach out to the teacher.
Eigen said she attended the Center for the American Experiment’s CRT discussion in Alexandria last month and is against CRT. She said it puts a spotlight on the color of a person’s skin instead of their character, and creates more division. She said as a school board member, she’d be willing to speak up against CRT.
Smith also opposed CRT and said it’s already part of school policies that talk about equity and systemic behavior. He described CRT as going down a “dangerous path” that contradicts the words of Martin Luther King that a person should not be judged by the color of their skin. He said CRT pits children against parents and teaches hatred. He said he’d rally parents against CRT and recruit candidates to run against school board members who support CRT “until they are all gone.”
Other highlights from the forum:
What improvements would you make in the school district?
Patience – smaller class sizes, more community partnerships and fixing the parking lot at Discovery Middle School.
Eigen – more transparency between the school district and parents, more interaction with parents, greater community involvement.
Smith – better communication between parents and the school district, especially if their children are struggling, and less reliance on technology such as calculators and spell-checking programs. He added that the school board did not have one dissenting vote in all of its meetings of the past year and wants more parents involved in the committees that make decisions before the issues are presented to the school board.
When should sex education be taught in schools?
Patience – hormones, hair and body parts in the fifth grade. Sexually transmitted diseases and other topics in seventh-grade.
Eigen – reproductive system and topics such as menstruation in fourth and fifth-grade. She believes that God created people to be what they are when they are born. Changes in gender should not be taught as part of the curriculum.
Smith – schools should inform children at the appropriate age about sex education but not influence them. Parents should sign permission slips for their children to receive information about sex.
What are your views about revising history textbooks, such as proposed by the 1619 Project? (This question referred an initiative from The New York Times Magazine to reframe the country's history by placing the consequences of slavery and the contributions of Black Americans at the center of the national narrative.)
Patience – it’s important to hold on to the things that have taken place in the past, such as world wars, and not to forget or try to replace them. He added that history continues to grow, noting that what happens in the next 20 years will be history lessons for today’s children.
Eigen – disagrees with the 1619 Project, calling it “too problematic” to make revisions. She said there were times of oppression in the country but citizens learned how to overcome it.
Smith – opposes the 1619 project and efforts to create a “political narrative.” History can’t be revised, he said.
Would you risk losing funding or the school district’s standing by not following directives from the federal government, the Minnesota Department of Education, or the school board?
Patience – the school district should not serve as a test case for other schools. If the district resists mask mandates, for example, it would lead to significant legal bills and damage the school district’s reputation. Those funds would be better put to use educating children.
Eigen – the district should do what’s best for the children. If parents think the school board is changing something that goes against their values or moral character, they should pull their children from the district.
Smith – the school board must protect children’s mental health and physical safety and that means not requiring them to wear masks and breathe in carbon dioxide. If the district “caves” to whatever the state says, the district is not a leader.
Jeff Patience: Lived in Alexandria since 2002. His son graduated from AAHS in 2020, his daughter will graduate in 2022. His fiance, Shannon Kludt, has two sons who will graduate from AAHS in 2023 and 2025.
Works as a commercial lender at Bell Bank in Alexandria. Appointed to the Alexandria School Board this past May to fill a vacancy left by Bob Cunniff, who moved out of the area.
Graduated from North Dakota State University in 1997 with a degree in accounting and a minor in business.
Serves on many boards and committees – AAHS Budget Advisory Committee, Dollars for Scholars Board, AAHS Freshman Advisory Committee (past member), AAHS Hoops Boosters Board (past member), AAHS Girls Hockey coach/help (two years), DECA, AAHS CAPS Program, AAHS graduation events volunteer, and others.
Why he’s running: Wants to give back to the community.
Maureen Eigen: Grew up in Alexandria, attended Alexandria Public Schools, graduated from Jefferson High School, and graduated from Bethel University in St. Paul with a degree in business marketing and finance.
Her husband, Evan, is a chiropractor. They moved back to Alexandria four years ago. They have three children, ages 4, 6 and 8, who are attending Alexandria Public Schools. She was a stay-at-home mom for nearly eight years before becoming a real estate agent with RE/MAX Lakes Area Realty.
Why she is running: Education builds strong kids and strong families. She said she’s passionate about education and enjoys working with a team.
Jeremy Smith: Alexandria native. Married to Renae and they have two children, ages 8 and 5. He is a hockey coach, a controls engineer and business owner. The Smiths are a Douglas County Foster Family.
He received his electrical engineering degree from North Dakota State University.
Why he is running: To put the needs of children above everything else. He said his approach will bring a unique perspective to the board.