Mask mandates, vaccinations, critical race theory and other topics were discussed by the two Alexandria School Board candidates – Maureen Eigen and Jeff Patience – at a forum Monday night.
The candidate forum, which took place Sept. 13 at Discovery Middle School in Alexandria, was hosted by the American Association of University Women, a non-partisan, non-profit organization that focuses on equity for women and girls through advocacy, education and research.
Eigen and Patience, whose names will be on the ballot in November, received the most votes in a three-candidate primary election that took place in August.
Mask mandates and vaccines
When asked how they thought the Alexandria School Board handled the mask mandates, Patience, who was appointed earlier this year to the board, said the district responded based on data. He said that a school in Albert Lea had an outbreak the first week of school and that the district didn’t want that.
“Is it fair?” he asked. “It’s safe.”
Patience added there are opportunities for medical and religious exemptions.
“Masks are not exciting, but kids would rather go to school,” he said. “Kids are tough.”
Eigen disagreed and said that she believes in freedom. She doesn’t agree with the process of how the mask mandate was handled by the board.
“I think masks are a big deal and parents should have a choice,” said Eigen.
She also said she disagreed with the decision that the superintendent was given emergency powers to make decisions.
In a related question, the candidates were asked who administrators should listen to and Eigen said the school district has a COVID response team, but questioned who made up the team.
She doesn’t believe a parent’s right to choose whether their child wears a mask or not should be taken away. She said the school district and school board should have a willing desire to listen to the community.
Patience said the district does listen. It listens to the medical community, he said.
He said the district makes decisions that help to make students and faculty safe. In addition, as a board member, he said decisions need to be based on factual data coming from the local medical community. And Patience said the decisions made by the district are calculated.
Eigen countered and said that not every school district chose to have a mask mandate, including the Osakis and Brandon-Evansville school districts.
“It’s not a one-size-fits-all situation,” she said.
As for mandatory vaccines, Eigen said she believes in health freedom and that those freedoms need to be upheld. She said in Minnesota, there are mandatory vaccines, but there are also medical, religious and philosophical exemptions.
“Families should be able to choose and they should be respected for those choices,” Eigen said.
Patience said it’s a hard conversation, but that as much as he supports vaccinations, especially for COVID-19, he can’t support mandatory vaccine for students.
“I support vaccinations, I’m just not there to mandate children,” he said.
Critical race theory
Each candidate was asked what their interpretation of critical race theory was, if there was any documentation it was being taught in District 206 and if they supported it.
Patience said it was a theory created several years ago and that he is not an expert in the topic but that it dealt with racism. He felt it should be taught at the college level, but that children aged 18 and younger were not developed enough to understand it.
However, he said that slavery was ugly and that it needs to be taught in schools. He said it is an important piece of history and that it made an impact. Patience said it needs to be taught so that kids can learn and do a better job.
Eigen said it was a theory on racism that was created by college professors and that she doesn’t support it.
“I support accurate history; it needs to be taught,” she said, noting that teaching accurate history allows people to learn what was wrong and learn from it.
Clear policies, being more transparent and having better communication are things Eigen feels are important to parents and are a draw for bringing students into the district. She also believes exceptional education and activities are also big draws.
Patience feels great teachers and supporting students is important.
They both feel that if a family leaves the district, but then comes back, the district should welcome them with open arms and respect whatever decisions they make. Patience said competition, even in education, is a part of life.
Eigen said as the school board is an elected position, she would be most accountable to the community as they are the people who elect school board members. She also said school board members are accountable to the superintendent, as well as to the students.
Patience feels as a school board member, he is first and foremost accountable to the students. Next would be the teachers, then the community members.
When it comes to gender identity and how it should be handled, Eigen said every student is welcome and that kids need to be taught to be respectful and that kids should be taught in an age appropriate way the differences.
Patience said at the end of the day, the school board and school system in general is in place to support students. He said all students should be supported and that school should be a safe place.
The candidates answered many more questions.