INDIAN RIVER COUNTY – Eight of nine candidates running for three seats on the Indian River County School Board gathered Friday evening to debate various topics, including prayer in the classroom and sex education.
Two candidates, including the incumbents, are vying for the District 1 and 3 seats, while five are attempting to win the open District 5 seat. Incumbent Debbie MacKay has decided not to seek reelection.
Indian River Tea Party organizer and the forum’s moderator Toby Hill told the audience of about 80 people that the organization has not yet endorsed any candidate for any race.
Candidates faced a barrage of questions ranging from financial priorities and the true and factual teaching of history, to more controversial topics of prayer and sex education.
“Let the kids pray,” said Guy Barber (R-Dist. 1) candidate, noting that it has never been illegal for children to pray. “There is prayer in schools” – come to school during FCATs, he added.
All candidates at the forum said they support prayer in schools, though many called for a moment of silence at the start of the school day so students could pray however they see fit – not having adults lead them in prayer.
Write-in candidate Althea McKenzie (Dist. 5) offered that the schools have a morning assembly for prayer, which she said would help bring the student body together.
Jeff Pegler (R-Dist. 5) said that school is “not the place for personal beliefs to be quashed.”
District 3 incumbent Carol Johnson (R) said that as the chair of the School Board a few years ago, members of the public challenged the board’s decision to have prayer at the start of the regular board meetings.
“It’s a huge task,” Johnson said, recalling what she would tell the challengers. “It’s a huge responsibility and we need help.”
Toward the end of the Tea Party-led forum, members of the audience were allowed to submit questions to the candidates – one of which pertained to the candidates’ thoughts on what type of sex education program the schools should offer.
“None!” replied Barber before passing the microphone to District 1 incumbent Karen Disney-Brombach (R).
Disney-Brombach said that she believes schools should teach the science of reproduction and anatomy but leave the teaching of morality and beliefs to the students’ families.
Johnson said that schools should follow state guidelines in the teaching but, for the most part, sex education should be left to the parents. She noted that too often, though, schools are forced into the role of playing the parent.
Ardra Rigby (R-Dist. 5) said sex education isn’t happening at home. As a substitute teacher in the high schools, he sees several pregnant students.
“We have a problem,” Rigby said. “And that’s kids having kids.”
Johnson added that if there are opportunities for students to learn about sex education outside the school setting, parents should be informed of those opportunities.
Johnson’s challenger, Richard Marini (R), said that his platform is about “good, old fashioned values” – “Just say no.”
District 5 candidate Kimberly Keithahn (R) said that it is the parents’ responsibility to teach their children.
She added that when the teaching of the science gets to a point where it might conflict with conservative family values, parents should be allowed to opt their children out of the class.
“It is my right to teach my child about – sex,” Keithahn said, hesitating before saying the word.
McKenzie said she believes schools should teach age appropriate, factual, and concise material and let the parents choose if they want their child to learn it.
“If we don’t provide the information,” McKenzie said, and the children have questions – they will find the answer elsewhere. The danger with that, she said, is that the information they find might not be true.
Pegler said that he agreed with the other candidates, that it is the role of the parent to teach the child about sex. However, he said, schools should direct parents on where to go to get that information.
Harry Hall Jr. (R-Dist. 5) was absent from the meeting because he was helping his child move to college, Tea Party organizers said.
The race for the District 1 and 3 will be decided in the August Primary, while the District 5 seat will be decided in November. The winner of the Primary for the District 5 seat will face off against Write-In candidate Althea McKenzie.
District 1 Candidates
Karen Disney-Brombach (R) – Incumbent
Guy Barber (R) – Challenger
District 3 Candidates
Carol Johnson (R) – Incumbent
Richard Marini (R) – Challenger
District 5 Candidates
Harry Hall Jr. (R)
Kimberly Keithahn (R)
Althea McKenzie (Write-In)
Jeff Pegler (R)
Ardra Rigby (R)