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Conservatives Against 'Awakened' Culture Win Kansas Board of Education Seats KCUR 89.3

Wichita, Kansas — Conservatives unhappy with public school policies in Kansas may win seats on the state school board on Tuesday to push for a restructuring of classes taught in schools.

Two Republican board members have been ousted by challengers who have spoken out against precepts on racism, sexuality and gender identity. They also say parents should have more control over what happens in the classroom.

“Many people worry about indoctrination, not education,” said Dennis Hershberger, who defeated incumbent Ben Jones in Central Kansas. It’s about making society, and academics are on the back burner.”

This was a very different change from the typically low-interest, low-voter elections for a board that sets educational policy and academic standards for schools across the state.

With no Democratic challenger in any of the three races, the conservative challenger has secured a seat on the board, along with moderate Chairman Jim Porter.

Hershberger, who lives near Yoder, was the chairman of the Reno County Republican Party and defeated Jones by about 9,000 votes.

In Western Kansas’ District 5, Garden City incumbent Gene Clifford lost to Hayes’ Kathy Hopkins by about 5,000 votes. failed last fall for a seat on the Hayes Board of Education.

Porter held off the first challenge from McPherson’s barber, Luke Eichel. Started his business by ignoring COVID-19 protocols Porter represents District 9 in Southeast Kansas.

Courtesy of Dennis Hershberger

Dennis Hershberger, who lives near Yoder, won a seat on the Kansas Board of Education in District 7, ousting incumbent Ben Jones.

Hershberger, a former nurse and truck driver, said Wednesday that his first victory reflected plummeting test scores and widespread dissatisfaction with the state of public schools in general.

Hershberger and his wife primarily homeschooled their four children, one of whom graduated from a private Christian school. He believes the Kansas board is just putting a “rubber stamp” on decisions by school board Randy Watson and should have more direct control over schools.

Hershberger has denounced what he calls a “woke” trend in public education, including efforts to be more inclusive and welcoming of transgender students.

“So it’s just common sense. God created man and woman, but now we have a culture that tells us that’s not real anymore,” he said.

“I have a biblical worldview. I believe God makes things work a certain way, but a lot of that is now in danger.”

School board meetings across Kansas have become battlegrounds for protests over mask mandates, critical racial theories, and other issues. got more attention than usualIt also includes high-profile endorsements and national PAC funding.

in Wichita, Three of the four conservative candidates won seats. on the board of education. In the Derby neighborhood, just south of Wichita, conservatives took a majority in January and quickly lifted mask mandates. showed a video about white privilege.

Conservative candidates running for state commissions have raised similar issues, but not through most traditional media. Hershberger and Hopkins, his two major winners, told the Sentinel newsletter last month that they would support armed teachers.

“I look forward to advocating for the removal of gun-free areas. There is no point in bragging about having defenseless children and adults inside the walls,” Hopkins said in a conservative Kansas policy study. “Teachers and staff also have Second Amendment rights.”

Hershberger said a warning should be posted at school entrances stating that “violent intent will be dealt with with deadly force.”

Hershberger said he prefers the school’s voucher system. like in indianawas expanded last year to include most middle-class families. You can enroll in a private school.

“Money should follow the kid, right? … They (Indiana) have been doing it successfully for 10 years and I don’t understand why everyone doesn’t,” he said.

Kansas Board of Education members serve four-year terms. They set subject area standards but do not make specific curriculum decisions. That’s up to the local school board.

The board also does not make decisions on school funding. These matters are handled by the Kansas Legislature and Governor.

Two more seats on the 10-member Board will be elected in November.

Democrat Jeffrey Howards will face Republican Danny Zeck for the First District seat currently held by Janet Waugh. The district includes parts of northeastern Kansas and Topeka.

In District 3, which occupies most of the Kansas City suburbs, incumbent Republican Michelle Dombroski faces Democrat Sheila Albers.

Suzanne Perez reports on education for KMUW in Wichita and the Kansas News Service. You can follow her on Twitter @SuzPerezICT.

Kansas News Service, a collaboration of KCUR, Kansas Public Radio, KMUW, and High Plains Public Radio, focuses on health, the social determinants of health, and their relationship to public policy.

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