District 10: Ohio’s Board of Education candidates talk culture wars

By: - September 16, 2022 4:40 am

Left to right: District 10 incumbent Tim Miller, challenger candidate Tom Jackson, and challenger candidate Cierra Lynch. Photos provided.

The following article was originally published on News5Cleveland.com and is published in the Ohio Capital Journal under a content-sharing agreement. Unlike other OCJ articles, it is not available for free republication by other news outlets as it is owned by WEWS in Cleveland.

In the second edition of OCJ’s state Board of Education series, the candidates for District 10 discuss controversial topics.

The first edition focused on funding and school choice — click or tap here to read.

To learn why you should be paying attention to the Board of Education races, click or tap here.

Who is in District 10

District 10 is made up of Senate districts 21, 27 and 28. This contains the east side of Cuyahoga County, part of Geauga County and all of both Summit and Portage counties.

To find out if you are in District 10: The Sec. of State website has a handy tool called “Find my District.”

If it says District 10, you can learn more about the candidates you’ll be voting on below.

Candidates

All candidates are elected as nonpartisan, however, they always have political leanings.

Tim Miller is the Akron-based incumbent. He was appointed by Gov. Mike DeWine to complete the last two years of a four-year term. He is a former Akron Schools board member. He also leans conservative.

Tom Jackson is from Solon, one of the east side suburbs of Cleveland. He has a degree in education and is on the Solon City Schools Strategic Planning team. He leans progressive.

Cierra Lynch Shehorn is a Summit County consultant. She owns her own firm and has worked in PR and media relations. She leans conservative.

Culture wars

The battle around what students should be taught in school continues to rage on in not just the Ohio Legislature but also at the local level.

Parents have been raising concerns on each side for about two years now, but the debate is heating up as the election gets closer.

Dozens of families, students and educators have reached out to OCJ, asking the team to speak to candidates for the state school board about the “culture wars.”

Democratic-leaning candidate Tom Jackson wants to protect educators from issues that he says detract from their real mission — teaching the students.

“What we have are largely false attacks and efforts to solve non-existing problems,” Jackson said. “And it’s being driven by the state Legislature.”

More than 100 schools across the state are receiving calls for book bans, to stop discussions of race, sexuality and gender or to teach atrocities such as the Holocaust from “both sides.”

House Bill 616 states that no school district, community school, STEM school, non-public school that enrolls students who are participating in a state scholarship program, or any employee or other third party representing a school district or school, can teach any “divisive or inherently racist concepts.” That includes all of the critical race theory, intersectional theory, the 1619 project, diversity, equity, and inclusion learning outcomes and “inherited racial guilt.”

The next section of the bill touches on sexuality and gender identity.

RELATED: Lawmakers hear Ohio’s version of Florida’s ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill

This bill came after OCJ aired an exclusive report about comments made by one of the primary sponsors of the original “divisive concepts” bill — H.B. 327. The report stemmed from an interview exchange between state Representative Sarah Fowler Arthur (R-Ashtabula) and a OCJ reporter Morgan Trau in early March.

RELATED: Comments about the Holocaust from representative sponsoring ‘divisive concepts’ bill raise concerns

During the interview, Fowler Arthur was asked about the financial aspect of the bill. While attempting to talk about funding, she brought up the Holocaust, saying that students needed to hear the massacre from the perspective of the “German soldiers.”

After the exclusive OCJ story on House Bill 327’s sponsor’s comments on the Holocaust went international, the original divisive concepts bill has been renamed the “both sides bill” or the “both sides of the Holocaust bill.”

The lawmakers say this is to provide “transparency to parents” and to “protect against indoctrination.”

“If a bill that says we need to teach all sides of the Holocaust gets a committee hearing in the state, well, that’s just an embarrassment for the state,” Jackson added. “There’s no room for this.”

Not addressing the specific bills, conservative-leaning Cierra Lynch Shehorn said she believes in parental rights and that schools should be able to do what they want.

“It ties into transparency and local control,” she said. “Those are things that I really believe in. I don’t believe in the state overstepping.”

When pressed about how she would handle the state enforcing rules on how to teach subjects like the Holocaust, or gender, to local schools, she said that her role would be to just “serve the purpose given to by the General Assembly.”

She is much more interested in making sure there is a functioning school board than dealing with controversial topics.

While Conservative-leaning incumbent Tim Miller said he also believes in local control, like the other two candidates, he differs from Lynch Shehorn by explicitly condemning censorship.

“On book banning and things of that nature, I’m not supportive of that,” he said. “You certainly have to be aware of age appropriateness.”

Miller is against banning books especially when it comes to high-level and college classes, which tend to be more worldly.

“Some people didn’t like some of the material there, but those are college-level classes,” Miller said. “Kids of that age should be exposed to everything and anything. If you’re going into a four-year degree, that’s part of a four-year degree.”

Despite his support of exposure to difficult topics, Miller was one of the Board of Education members to repeal a 2020 anti-racism resolution.

The resolution condemned racism, made a goal to have equity in opportunities for students of color and encouraged diversity training.

When asked about his vote, the incumbent said he “still stands behind” it. Defending himself, he said he voted to remove the condemnation of racism document due to a “technicality.”

“After that resolution passed, the state required diversity, equity, inclusion training for all state employees,” he said. “So that part of Resolution 20 was not needed anymore.”

He took a lot of “blowback” for his vote in Akron, he said.

The board ended up with a replacement resolution, he said. The gist of the new resolution is that the board condemns any teachings that “seek to divide.”

“I’m here to help every child, regardless of their background, you know, race, color, creed, orientation and things of that nature,” Miller said.

It is likely Lynch Shehorn would have voted the same way as Miller.

“I’m not a big fan of resolutions,” she said. “I believe that we need to leave the legislating to the legislators.”

OCJ repeatedly asked Lynch Shehorn for her response to specific bills and how she would consider discussions of race in class, but she would not answer. Instead, she insisted that she is just there to serve the General Assembly.

Jackson was adamantly against this logic, citing it is ridiculous that condemning racism has become a political battle.

“I will leave it up to your viewers on what you would call an anti-anti-racism resolution,” he said.

The repeal of the anti-racism resolution shows a lot about the members who voted for it, the Democratic-leaning candidate said.

Teachers already had to deal with so much during the pandemic and now they have to deal with laws introduced or signed that the vast majority of educators are against. It is up to the school board to support them, he said.

“To attack [teachers] for political or cultural reasons is just a disservice to the very children that we’re trying to support and lift up,” Jackson added. “We need people that are going to stand up to those forces and really be champions of public schools in Ohio.”

Follow WEWS statehouse reporter Morgan Trau on Twitter and Facebook.

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Morgan Trau
Morgan Trau

Morgan Trau is a political reporter and multimedia journalist based out of the WEWS Columbus Bureau. A graduate of Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications, Trau has previously worked as an investigative, political and fact-checking reporter in Grand Rapids, Mich. at WZZM-TV; a reporter and MMJ in Spokane, Wash. at KREM-TV and has interned at 60 Minutes and worked for CBS Interactive and PBS NewsHour.

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