5 candidates are running for 2 spots on the Forest Hills School Board
Five candidates will be on the ballot to fill two spots on the Forest Hills School District Board of Education.
During the last school board race in 2021, voters in the district elected four new board members: Katie Stewart, Sara Jonas, Bob Bibb, and Linda Hausfeld. These candidates campaigned together as "Four For Forest Hills" on an anti-critical race theory platform.
Since these four joined, the Forest Hills school board has pushed to end things like Turpin High School's Diversity Day and ban assignments where students would have to consider their race, class, religion, gender identity, or sexuality. That ban has since resulted in a lawsuit.
These changes by the board have pleased some in the community but also sparked outrage from others. Now, this year's election has candidates sparing over many of the same issues with seemingly no middle ground to be found. This election season, the rift is so wide between candidates that the Forest Hills community has not been able to hold a candidate forum or meet-and-greet with more than two candidates present.
Current Board Member Leslie Rasmussen and Board President Linda Hausfeld are not running for re-election, which has opened the door for new candidates to make a run at their seats.
WVXU reached out to all of the candidates on this year's ballot to get
their thoughts on the state of the district and where they'd like to see it go next.
Simmons says he's running this year to make sure the school board represents the values of his family and other families in the community.
Forest Hills is one of the highest-performing school districts in the state, and Simmons says the board has already damaged its reputation and could eventually hurt the academic performance of students if the board carries on with its agenda.
"There's definitely a concerted effort to quiet the voices that don't fit within the box," he told WVXU. "There's a big difference between fitting in and belonging. Fitting in means we need to change who we are to conform to the norm. Belonging means we're able to be our authentic selves and we're welcome wherever we are."
As a professor at the University of Cincinnati, Simmons says strong educational environments are important to him and he believes a more diverse environment is a better one for learning.
Wendy Strickler Biederman
Biederman says her passion is education. In her career, she's worked for various local school districts, including Forest Hills. Now she says she wants to bring that experience and passion to the school board to tackle some of the issues she believes the board has created around what can be discussed in the classroom.
She says the district can't choose to ignore subjects like slavery and segregation and thinks these topics should be discussed appropriately in the classroom.
"We can't ignore those piece of the puzzle. Beyond that, it's really important that teachers have the opportunity to talk about diversity and understand the diverse makeup of the students in their classroom," Biederman said.
If elected, Biederman says she'll push to give educators the freedom to discuss topics related to the school curriculum and make students feel welcomed and seen no matter their background.
Wahlke's top priority if elected is to bring back Anderson High School's race-based mascot. He claims the school board was pressured by outside forces in 2020 to remove the "R-skin" mascot against the will of the community.
"It was handled poorly when it was taken away and the community has lost a sense of togetherness. It's been real divisive ever since," Wahlke told WVXU. "I feel like if we bought it back — the climate's better now than it was in 2020 — it'll make the community whole again."
He says topics like race and sexuality do have a place in the classroom, but shouldn't be made into too big of an issue. Wahlke doesn't disagree with many of the moves made by the board in the past couple of years but wishes board members and Superintendent Larry Hook were more transparent with their decision-making.
Comerford did not respond to WVXU's request for an interview.
In early October, he participated in a private candidate forum with fellow candidate Kenneth Kuhn hosted by the Anderson Tea Party. WVXU requested an invitation but was denied by the event's organizer. Afterward, Comerford posted a video of the event on his campaign's YouTube channel. In the video, he says he supports the board's decision to remove Diversity Day and if elected wants to make sure politics stay out of the classroom.
Kuhn did not respond to WVXU's request for an interview.
At the Anderson Tea Party's candidate forum, he said he wants parents to have more control over what children are learning in the classroom and believes the district's policies around teaching about race and other topics should be more strongly enforced.