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Northeast Ohio school board race results where hot-button issues were at play


A flurry of endorsements from statewide conservatives and national political groups - and discussions about hot-button controversial cultural and political topics - punctuated some Northeast Ohio board of education races this election cycle.

In North Royalton, conservative candidates Mike Telep and Mirona Florian came up short. They had campaigned on concerns about critical race theory worming their way into schools - an academic theory about how racism is baked into American society that schools say they don't teach.

Instead, Jackie Arendt, John Higgins and Christina May, who ran as a ticket, were voted in to three open seats. Their campaign focused on school board core functions as opposed to hot-button issues, or "facts over fear," as Higgins referred it.

That race took on a new dimension after Telep and Florian were endorsed by statewide Republicans Frank LaRose and Keith Faber, and received support from the national 1776 Project PAC, which boosts candidates opposed to critical race theory and "cultural Marxism" being taught in schools, according to its website. Arendt was called a "radical" disguised as a "sensible moderate" by Fox News host Laura Ingraham on a recent segment about school board races, referencing an Ohio PTA position statement she supported while president of the group.

"This proves that our community wants responsible, positive and fact-based leaders that are committed to keeping our public schools successful," Arendt said of the election's results.

Meanwhile, Rose Ioppolo, a mother of four who was endorsed by LaRose and the 1776 Project as well, was the top vote-getter in a race for two seats on the Mentor Board of Education. The campaign she ran with fellow conservative Gil Martello focused on topics of safety and academic quality but also on issues of parents' rights, the topic of restricting bathroom use based on students' sex assigned at birth and removing some "sexually explicit" materials from libraries. Ioppolo said in a statement today that voters are concerned with the direction of the district, which her campaign tapped into.

"The failed permanent improvement levy sent a loud message to the board that taxpayers are tired of handing money over to a district that refuses to listen to the people," she said, noting the levy that failed Tuesday by 1,000 votes.

Ioppolo said the district is in a "downward spiral" and in need of a course correction, referencing a recent incident where an elementary school teacher was arrested. The district has said Mentor teacher Timothy Tatko was put on administrative leave "immediately" after he was arrested in a sting operation last month, which targeted people allegedly going online looking to seek sex with minors. Tatko has not yet been arraigned on charges.

Voters in Mentor also selected fellow first-time candidate Lauren Marchaza for the other open Mentor board seat, who ran a campaign that she said eschewed political endorsements. She told Ideastream Public Media previously she thought recent board meetings in the years since the pandemic had become out-of-control, focused too much on political and cultural controversies - things like book bans and masking policies - rather than things that directly affect operation of the district, like class sizes and bus driver shortages.

Elsewhere in Northeast Ohio, in Stark County, only one of nine candidates endorsed by the Moms for Liberty national political group was elected to a local school board this election cycle. Moms for Liberty has been identified by the Southern Poverty Law Center as an extremist group - although the group has said it plans to sue the SPLC for libel to fight that designation - and is known for boosting conservative candidates who pledge to uphold parents' rights and limit "government overreach," according to their website.

The majority of the candidates endorsed by Moms for Liberty this election cycle faced an uphill battle at the polls in Ohio. Still, according to elections results in Franklin and Hamilton counties (the other two counties where the group endorsed candidates this cycle), Moms for Liberty-endorsed candidates did pick up four seats on school boards in those counties, out of 16 candidates endorsed.

Corrected: November 9, 2023 at 9:15 AM EST
Candidates Mike Telep, Mirona Florian, Jackie Arendt and the rest of Arendt's ticket are from North Royalton, not North Canton as was initially stated.
Conor Morris is the education reporter for Ideastream Public Media.