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Pro- And Anti-Mask Mandate Candidates Win Central Ohio School Board Elections

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Jay Laprete
/
AP
Campaign yard signs line a yard Thursday, Oct. 7, 2021, in Worthington, Ohio.

After a year of hot-button issues like mask mandates and Critical Race Theory dominating much of the discussion at school board meetings, the results for local school board elections are in.

On Tuesday night, a mixed bag of candidates won seats on school boards across Central Ohio. They ranged from incumbents and challengers, to those who are for and against issues like mask mandates in school.

Zach Vorst won a seat on the Hilliard City School Board out of three open seats. He's a part of Parents for Hilliard City School Board, a group of candidates that came out against the district's mask mandate. He said his win, along with fellow member Beth Murdoch's, shows that the community wants leaders who will listen to parents.

"The community reached out and said, 'Hey, we need people who will engage us,'" Vorst said. "That's one of the biggest things that we promised to bring to the table, which is engagement, and I think the community came out and supported us in that respect."

Murdoch, another anti-mask mandate candidate in Hilliard, added that their group was never anti-mask. And she said masking in school was a concern among her community, and the win shows that.

"I know it started with parents not being felt like they were being heard, but I really felt that the outcome of this election was that there were other people out there who were not feeling heard or represented on the school board," she said.

Vorst and Murdoch garnered 15% of the district's votes, around 7,000 each. Kara Crowley received 19% of the votes.

But not every school board saw anti-mask mandate candidates take over the election. Worthington Schools' Board of Education for example saw two incumbents, Jennifer Hitt Best and Nikki Hudson, win alongside newcomer Kelli Davis, who won the last open seat.

Davis got the most votes at 33%, with Best trailing at 26% and Hudson at 24%.

Hudson, along with other Worthington School Board members, received a letter over the summer from a group called "Citizens to Remove CRT from America," threatening them over issues like CRT and enforcing a mask mandate in the district.

No school districts in Ohio currently teach Critical Race Theory, which is generally considered a graduate school-level approach to understanding the role of racism in American history.

Hudson said her successful re-election bid hopefully comes as a sigh of relief from negativity like the threats.

"I hope this takes a little bit of wind out of their sails, and that we can encourage people to come back to the table in a more civil manner, and actually engage in civil dialogue," Hudson said. "And we're hopeful."

She added that when it comes to mask mandates, her win will hopefully allow the district to continue to follow science and have those civil discussions on any hot-button issue.

"I'm not so naïve to think that all of a sudden now, all of our issues will be solved and we won't have these pressing issues on which our community may still be divided in part," Hudson said.

All school board election winners will take their seats on Jan. 1.

Michael Lee joined WOSU in 2021, but was previously an intern at the station in 2018. He is a graduate from Northwestern's Medill School of Journalism where he obtained his master's degree, and an alumnus of Ohio State University. Michael has previously worked as an intern at the Columbus Dispatch and most recently, the Chicago Sun-Times.