School Board Candidates In Broward County Try To Reach Voters In Zoom Forum
With early voting fast approaching on Aug. 8, candidates running for school board seats in Broward County met on Zoom Monday night to try to reach voters online.
The Rio Vista Civic Association in Fort Lauderdale hosted the Zoom political forum. Up to 45 people joined the call to hear from each candidate about issues including budgets, what capital projects to prioritize, and school safety.
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Incumbent Heather Brinkworth is working to defend her seat for District 3, that she has held for six years. It encompasses the cities of Fort Lauderdale and Oakland Park. When asked about what the school district has done well and what challenges lay ahead, she said COVID-19 shows examples of both after an abrupt transition to online learning in the spring.
"We've added a lot of professional development, I'm looking forward to how e-learning is going to look different in the fall," Brinkworth said. "Also a big challenge for us is going to be addressing the academic gap that has been created by what we're calling 'COVID-slide.'
Sarah Leonardi is running against Brinkworth and has more than a $21,000 lead in fundraising. She teaches 10th grade english at Nova High School in Davie. She told voters over Zoom that the school district needs to address overall pandemic planning.
"Communicating and planning for the safe opening for our schools, and continuing distance learning is a challenge I'm seeing right now," Leonardi said.
The issue is a heavy concern for teachers and families as the start of the new school quickly approaches in Broward County on Aug. 19. There are now also legal implications. The forum came the same day as a statewide teachers union filed a lawsuit in Miami against Gov. Ron DeSantis for his administration's mandate calling to physically reopen schools.
During the recent surge of cases across South Florida, and several other states in the U.S., the national teachers union — the American Federation of Teachers — has also been calling on the federal government to support more funding for schools when educators deem it safe to move to hybrid or in-person school days.
The five candidates vying for the at-large school board seat 9 also participated in the forum via Zoom. That seat will be vacated by long-standing board member Robin Bartleman, who has held the seat since 2004. She is running for a seat in the state legislature (District 104), including West Broward's Weston and Pembroke Pines.
The candidates in the running for the at-large seat (in order of highest-to-lowest fundraising) include:
- Narnike Grant
- Debra 'Debbi' Hixon
- Jeff Holness
- Joyce Williams-Bryan
- Jimmy Witherspoon