ELECTION 2021: Compare the Candidates — Board of Education

The Wilton Board of Education (BOE) has three open seats on a six-person board. There are five candidates running, and voters can vote for up to three people.

We conducted video interviews with all five BOE candidates. We asked them (roughly) the same questions, although there were some individual follow-ups and special areas we touched on with different candidates. Below, we’ve broken down the interviews, question by question, so you can compare video answers for all the candidates to each question, side-by-side.

Editor’s Note:  On Monday, we will publish similar side-by-side video answer comparisons for the Board of Selectmen and Board of Finance races.

The candidates, in alphabetical order, (with links to their “Meet the Candidate” pages that include each person’s bio, Op-Ed and complete video interview), are:

Jess Christ (Republican)
Nicola Davies (Democrat)
Pam Ely (Democrat)
Deborah Low, BOE Incumbent (Democrat)
Jared Martin (Unaffiliated, running on Republican ballot)

Freedom of Information Act Requests, “Troubling” Online Posts

For this race, GOOD Morning Wilton submitted a formal Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to both the Wilton Public School district and the First Selectwoman’s office, requesting copies of any email or mail correspondence from any BOE candidate sent since March 8, 2020, to any town or school official or employee (primarily the office of First Selectwoman Lynne Vanderslice and Wilton Health Director Barry Bogle, the current Board of Education, Superintendent Kevin Smith and building principals) regarding:

  • mask usage or mandates in the Town of Wilton
  • COVID vaccine policy of the Town of Wilton
  • COVID response, including but not limited to town operations, virtual learning, return to standard town operations/school teaching & learning procedures, etc. in the Town of Wilton and Wilton Public Schools

That request resulted in materials turned over by the school district for three BOE candidates:  Nicola Davies — who at the time was working for the school district and volunteering on two PTA boards — sent an email in that function to school officials regarding parent adoption of distance-learning technology; and Jared Martin and Jess Christ, both of whom emailed officials about mask usage, cleaning protocols, district communication, reopening, learning models, e-learning, recess and play protocols and other COVID-related topics.

Editor’s note: an earlier version of this article contained the original documents provided by the school district, including redactions of information or details made by the school district. It was brought to our attention that some identifying information relating to Jess Christ’s child was not redacted by the school district. We removed that document as soon as we were notified, and reviewed it, and did our own additional redaction to obscure any personal information not already mentioned by any candidate during the campaign.

Vanderslice provided emails from Deborah Low in her position as BOE chair asking Vanderslice to encourage resident behavior that would lower the spread of COVID in order to improve the chance of reopening school in the fall of 2020.

Vanderslice also forwarded an email exchange with Jared Martin, who contacted Vanderslice to request that she not follow CDC guidelines or mask mandates from state or federal officials, in an email entitled, “Stop the Conformity.” He wrote:

“Given the constant fear campaign that has been foisted upon reasonable informed people, I am writing to request you uphold The Constitution of the United States of America ensuring every human’s right of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

“I strongly reject unscientific application of masks on our people. A virus that is 800 times smaller than a clean well fitted surgical mask can filter does not make our community safer. The only studies offered are less credible than the studies indicating the efficacies of “censored” therapeutics being used by physicians world wide.

“Enough is enough. Please make it clear that Wilton will not bow to politicized agencies (CDC has been awful), rather we will allow the individuals to make their own risk assessment and embrace liberty.”

We’ve uploaded the PDFs of communication provided to GMW, and they are embedded after the video clips below. Additionally, we’ve asked the candidates about these emails and topics, and their answers are in the video clips.

Finally, we asked Jess Christ several questions about accusations that she cleaned her social media and online footprint of controversial posts just before becoming a candidate. The posts relate to COVID, mask mandates, the Jan. 6 Capitol uprising, and equity. We showed her screenshots of several posts sent to us by multiple readers who said they found the items troubling, including her original Wilton Republican Town Committee website bio originally stated it was, “…important to me that the concept of ‘equity’ be removed from our vocabulary,” before the bio was edited to remove the line. We gave Christ the opportunity to explain to voters why the posts were removed and what she believes, especially regarding topics that may come up in front of the BOE or in classroom curriculum.

UPDATE, Friday, Oct. 29, 1:30 p.m. — We received the following statement from the Wilton Republican Town Committee:

“Our town relies on numerous volunteers for elected and unelected boards and commissions and to run youth sports and other organizations. We applaud all volunteers and teachers in our town, whose work too often goes unrecognized. Few of them have political ambition, and no parent expects private correspondence with the school district to be broadcast and politicized.

“Today, four days before Election Day, GMW decided to publish a series of emails between our Board of Ed candidates and the school and town.  These were not political. They were emails by parents concerned about issues affecting their kids. Whatever anyone thinks of that fact, GMW went even further, violating the legitimate privacy interests of children of these candidates by publishing one or more of their names, as well as emails making plain which children, on an individual basis, were being discussed. One or more private emails of at least one Wilton teacher was likewise published. Publishing these was a grotesque misjudgment, and our candidates — all candidates, volunteers and teachers in our town — deserve an apology from GMW.

“While we appreciate that GMW removed the subject posts, and our candidates wish to move forward, there is no room for disagreement that GMW should apologize for this very disappointing and grievous error in judgment.  No parent wants to see their private correspondence over school concerns broadcast like this, and GMW should have known better.  For their part, our candidates will continue to focus on what’s most important: You, the voters, and your input on how our town can move forward.”

Video Clips

Q:  What has your experience been in Wilton, and why are you seeking a seat on the BOE?

Q:  What have you done to be directly involved already with the school district in any way?

Q:  Some candidates are running on the fact that they are current parents in the district. One said, “Unions are for the teachers, the administrators are for the administrators and the board represents parents and families and members should be parents.” What’s your position?

Q. Watching BOE meetings, what do you think of how the Board functions and how will you improve it if elected? 

Q: What subcommittee do you want to be on?

Q:  How do you think the board and the administration did with regard to handling COVID in the last 18 months? There’s been some criticism of the mask policy — some people wanting to “unmask our kids”… or that protocols were too conservative? What do you think policy should be regarding masks moving forward, let’s say if the governor and the SDE allowed districts to decide for themselves? Any comment on the policy for visitors regarding vaccination or testing requirements?

  • Question for Jess Christ on her email to Superintendent Smith, district mask policy, COVID policy, etc.

Q. Historically, the BOE has been very non-political, but there are now political issues and positions that have entered this campaign. What are your thoughts on that and how it may impact your time on the board if elected?

Q: Diversity, Equity and CRT 

  • Do you know how does the administration’s plan to teach diversity, equity and inclusion is different from CRT?
  • Do you support the approach the district is taking toward diversity equity and inclusion — why or why not?
  • What if the topic of a particular writer or book was a problem for parents and they asked it to be removed?
  • How do you define equity?
  • Did you read the letter about diversity signed by 700 BIPOC students? What do you say to them?

Q:  What is the role of the Board of Ed in relation to the administration and the way curriculum is developed in the district?

 

Q: Any areas of the budget that need more attention? Thoughts on the budget?

Q:  Anything else you’d like to add?

 

Documents Received from FOIA request

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1 COMMENT

  1. “Make sure that information is open, truthful and known by the public is the job of the press, and we will continue on that path.”

    Keep up the great work you are doing at Good Morning Wilton – it is very much appreciated by so many of us!

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