Fort Smith School Board candidates answer questions about new education-related laws

by Talk Business & Politics staff ([email protected]) 1,111 views 

An At-Large Position held by Bill Hanesworth is the only contested position in the school elections for Fort Smith Public Schools Board of Education. Hanesworth is challenged by Matt Blaylock. Early voting for the election began Tuesday (May 11). The election is May 18.

Each candidate was provided a list of five questions by Talk Business & Politics related to education laws recently passed or considered by the Arkansas Legislature.

Prior to giving his answers, Blaylock said he was not in favor of adding any new laws.

“We have too many as it is, we just need to enforce what is already on the books and do away with many of them,” he said.

Hanesworth said after giving his answers that as the school district enters the challenges of the next several years, he will do his best to study and thoroughly understand any legislation or curriculum change brought before the board.

“I will strive to thoroughly understand these proposed changes and the impact on our community. This will require considerable dialogue and an understanding of any unintended consequences,” he said.

• The Gender Integrity Reinforcement for Sports (GIRLS) Act allows the state’s attorney general to bring a cause of action against schools that allow males to participate in interscholastic, intercollegiate, or club sports that are expressly designated for females. Do you support this legislation?

Blaylock: They believe that girls should compete against girls and boys should compete against boys, otherwise just make all sports co-ed and get rid of Title 9. Because if you are going to let male athletes compete against female athletes in female sports, you are taking away the opportunity for some females. I am troubled this is even a topic of conversation. If a law is passed of course I would support it, at that point it is law.

Hanesworth: Yes, I do support maintaining the separation of genders for athletic teams. Having said that, I do believe in the future we will need to evaluate and seek solutions to provide alternate opportunities for transgender athletes.

• A law was also approved that allows the Legislature the right to enact legislation regarding mandatory face masks. State agencies, state officials, local officials, and political subdivisions could not mandate face coverings, which could not be a condition for entry, education or services. Should such decisions be left to local control, or do you support this new law?

Blaylock: The State must be the ultimate authority on this matter. We have to have some uniform act, so if you travel from one region of the state to another, you know what is expected. I would hope that the State has the information and wherewithal to amend or adjust the act if needed. The State is not mandating that you cannot wear a mask. That is still a personal choice up to the individual.

Hanesworth: As we have seen, during times of extreme crisis, it may become necessary for state leaders to make decisions for the greater protection of citizens. However, those times should be extremely rare. I believe local leaders should be responsible for making decisions based upon the actual situation and circumstances within their area.

• House Bill 1831 requires K-12 school districts to adopt a policy for playing “The Star-Spangled Banner” at least once each week during school hours and before each school-sanctioned sporting event. Should such decisions be left to local control, or do you support this new law?

Blaylock: I love this idea, but I don’t think it is very practical. Fortunately, the FSPS does play the Star Spangled Banner before team sporting events, and I don’t think you can legislate patriotism. I would definitely support it, but once again, I don’t think we need more new laws.

Hanesworth: I am proud to be a citizen of the United States. Our country is ever evolving and will continue to grow and better ourselves. It is the very children within our school district that will drive that improvement in the future. I think it is a shame that the playing of our national anthem had to be mandated.

• House Bill 1701 sought to allow K-12 public school teachers to teach the biblical story of creationism as a theory for how the Earth came to exist. The bill did not become law. Do you believe the bill should have become law? Why or why not?

Blaylock: Once again, I don’t think we need any more laws. The Theory of Creation can currently be taught in public schools. If you make it a law, that does not mean the subject will get the validity that it deserves by the teacher teaching it.

Hanesworth: My understanding is the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1987 that public schools could not teach creationism as a science but can teach it in courses like religion or philosophy. The current structure allows creationism to be taught in schools simply not in the science classroom.

• There were discussions during the legislative session about restricting “critical race theory” education and/or racial equity curriculum – to include blocking the controversial 1619 project – in public schools. What are your thoughts on curriculum in public schools that addresses in depth the country’s racial history, systemic injustices and/or the history of slavery?

Blaylock: As stated in the question, the topics are very controversial. I think we need to take a long look at our reading, writing, science, and math scores and work on getting those scores where they need to be first. Furthermore, I think life skills and physical education need to have more of a focus before we start to worry about the 1619 project and “critical race theory” in secondary education. I think they are better suited as college level elective classes.

Hanesworth: There is no doubt our country’s history contains slavery and racism. That history cannot be ignored and should be included in our education so that current and future generations understand and learn from past mistakes. I believe each of our students should be equally valued, respected and supported. Our students should be taught to judge individuals on their character and personal actions. No student should be taught that they are inferior in any form or fashion. I believe we need leaders and discussions that unite us as a community. Legislation cannot bring us together and, in many cases, it only serves to further divide us.