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School board candidates discuss issues facing Carlisle
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Election 2021

School board candidates discuss issues facing Carlisle

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Candidates for the Carlisle Area School Board gave some insight into upcoming areas of focus for the school system during a virtual forum Monday evening.

The six candidates who will appear on both the Republican and Democratic ballots in this month’s local primary spoke about post-COVID school plans, disparities between schools and other matters.

Four seats on the school board are on this year’s ballot, with two incumbents – Rick Coplen and Anne Lauritzen – alongside challengers Sue Bower, David Miller, Joanna Birchett and Jerry Stirkey seeking those seats.

The event, put on by the AAUW Carlisle, involved different questions for different candidates, although a number of topics were common to many answers.

Primary among them was how to get students back on track after a year of limited in-person instruction due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The lack of social interaction in classrooms “is a risk factor and kids are struggling,” Miller said. But he also stressed, as several candidates did, that the district should also continue to develop its virtual academy for those who prefer it.

The district’s current intent is to have full in-person instruction in the fall, Coplen said, although “it’s a function of not only what’s happening in our schools but in our communities,” encouraging everyone who is able to get vaccinated.

“We can recover lost learning,” Coplen said, with a number of possibilities on the table. For example, he said the district could offer Saturday morning classes in the fall for students who are having a hard time catching up.

That also needs to extend to students’ mental health, Stirkey noted.

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“Carlisle school district should be a place where it’s safe to say ‘I’m not okay,’” he said.

“There should be a system in place that evaluates each child’s learning style and how they can get past their emotional and mental blockages,” Birchett said, particularly as students return from a tumultuous year of COVID restrictions.

Several candidates also fielded questions that touched on diversity and inclusion initiatives, for which candidates generally stressed the need for adequate resources for teachers and counselors to address students’ issues about race, gender, sexuality and other topics.

“I think it’s a must,” Bower said, citing the fears of parents who are “scared that their child is going to not be accepted.”

One viewer also questioned candidates on balancing high-profile athletic programs with other extracurricular activities that may fly more under the radar.

Lauritzen highlighted efforts to recognize students in a number of different disciplines and push them to pursue interests on and off the playing field.

“We don’t just have athletes, we don’t just have high academic achievers, we have students who are accomplishing things in all areas, and I think that’s so important for us to emphasize, as our students go forward and explore their pathways and what they’re good at,” she said.

Another participant also asked the candidates about disparities in engagement between elementary schools, something Stirkey said he had recently become aware of as well.

“I always just assumed that Hamilton mirrored Mooreland beyond its architectural façade,” Stirkey said.

Coplen said that, while the district’s neighborhood elementary schools are evenly funded across the board, there may be ways to provide more opportunities by consolidating some programs between elementary schools and have parents from different schools work together.

“That may in fact bring different parents into the mix, and maybe that’s part of the solution,” Coplen said.

Email Zack at zhoopes@cumberlink.com.

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