Oregon school board candidates discuss the issues

Kelly J. Kaczala

        Four of eight Oregon City School Board candidates running in the Nov. 2 General Election attended a candidates’ forum on Wednesday to address several issues facing the district.

        The candidates who attended were current board member Dan Saevig, who was appointed to the board in July, and challengers Diane Reeves, Lindsay Cathers, and Fred Lewis. Candidates that did not attend are board members Carol Molnar, Mike Csehi and Paul K. Magdich, and challenger Ernie J. Materni. Materni’s wife, Heidi, provided a biography of her husband, and said he was out of town attending training for the FBI Academy in Quantico, Virginia.
        Fred Lydy was the moderator of the forum. Lydy, of Sylvania, was once a member of the Sylvania School Board. Lynn Gibbs, of the Oregon Republican Club, sponsored the forum.
        Six candidates are running for three open seats with full four-year terms. Two candidates, Cathers and Magdich, are running for a two-year, unexpired term.
        Among the questions asked at the forum, and the candidates’ responses, include the following:
Will you support vaccine mandates for staff and students if they come to pass?
        Cathers: I do not believe that vaccines should be mandatory. I am not in support of them.
        Lewis: I do not believe you can make a one-size-fits-all with these vaccines. I think it’s too soon to mandate any kind of vaccine that hasn’t been proven. I wouldn’t be in favor of mandating in our schools.
        Reeves: I don’t believe in mandates for vaccines. I think it’s a personal choice. If you want to have a vaccine, that’s really up to you.
        Saevig: I have been vaccinated. I do believe in vaccines. I do not believe in mandatory vaccines. I think people should have the opportunity to make their decisions on what they put into their bodies.
Should face masks be mandatory for students and teachers?
        Lewis: I think it is parental choice. You have children who are unable to control their hands and they touch their masks all the time and touch everything else. That’s the nature of children. That’s what children do. So it’s just as hazardous as, to me, not having a mask.  The problem is telling folks what to do with their children. I don’t think there’s an Ohio law mandating it. I don’t think there’s a local ordinance mandating it. So I don’t see the school system doing it, either. I’m not in favor of mandating it.
        Reeves: I’m not in favor of mandates for anything. I think we are free citizens of the United States. We decide for ourselves what is best. We know our children. We know their health issues, so we need to decide. The same for the teachers. If a teacher feels more comfortable wearing a mask, then wear a mask. It’s really a personal choice. That’s where I think it needs to stay.
        Saevig: I’m going to offer a little different perspective on why masks are important. Number one, we’ve got to keep the kids in school. I hate masks. I would venture to say there’s not one person in this room that likes masks. But let me tell you why it’s important. I was over at the Coy Elementary parents’ meeting four weeks ago. One of the members of the organization was a teacher in Genoa schools. Genoa doesn’t have a mandatory mask policy. In the high school that week, they had 160 kids that were out with either COVID, or they were under quarantine. As educators, it’s our responsibility to keep the kids learning in the classroom. We already know what happened last year, locally, regionally and nationally. Test scores were all down. Why? It’s because they are away from their classrooms and teachers face to face. Learning on line has some advantages. But it has a heck of a lot of disadvantages. The other thing I’ve learned in going into the schools is, most of these kids are great about it. They get it. They just want to be with their teachers, who they love to death. They want to be with their friends, who they love to death. And they can’t do that when they’re sitting at home in front of a computer. Oregon schools right now follow the policies set by the Ohio Department of Health, the Ohio Department of Education, and the Toledo Lucas County Health Department. The Toledo Lucas County Health Department has a mandatory 10-day quarantine of a student exposed to somebody with COVID. However, if you have masks and systems set in place to protect the children, they don’t have to go into quarantine. They stay in school where they belong. I hate masks. We all hate masks. But we’re here to educate kids and we have to do it safely. I believe in individual rights. But the school board has one mission, and that’s to educate our kids. And they can’t do it if our kids are not in school.
        Cathers: We should talk less about the mask itself because I think we all agree a child with a mask on in a classroom cannot socialize, cannot learn and cannot communicate as effectively as when they do not have a mask on. It’s a barrier to communication. So it will impact the educational experience. However, it certainly will not impact the educational experience as significantly as being removed from the classroom and sent home to quarantine I lived remote learning with two children. It was not effective. We say in marketing that a focus group of one person is dangerous. I’m not projecting that my experience is identical to everyone’s. But I talk with a lot of parents. My kids have a lot of friends. I am in the community for a lot of events. I did not talk to one parent who thought their kid got a super high quality education. I say that without being disparaging to anyone’s effort or intent, but it was not as effective as the in-classroom. I think the question needs to be less about the mask, but what happens when we take the mask off. If it means all these kids get sent home because of the protocols we’re committed to following with quarantine, we simply cannot do it as responsible adults who are committed to giving a high quality education to these students. So I think what we should be talking about is, are the quarantine protocols appropriate given our current situation. What are the opportunities, who can we partner with to better understand when those things can be adjusted, what we need to consider as we evaluate revised quarantine protocols that are still safe and appropriate, that’s where I think the conversation needs to be. The mask, then, can come off at some point and we can return to the most effective educational product, which is in the classroom without a mask for all students.
What is your position on Critical Race Theory being taught in Oregon schools?
        Cathers: I would not support Critical Race Theory being taught in our school system.  I don’t believe Critical Race Theory would do anything to further the mission of offering excellent education to prepare our students for future employment. I think it divides our children, and puts a focus on the differences among them and not in a positive light where they’re celebrating one another. It creates a construct of oppressors and those being oppressed. I don’t see any of that being healthy for the emotional development of our children.
        Lewis: I’m against Critical Race Theory. Of course there is racism. Should we fight against it? Yes, we should. Should we try and help our brother and help every student have an equal playing field to learn? Absolutely. But does that mean that racism is affecting someone whether they know it or not? I don’t think so. I don’t think you can judge a person, no matter what their skin color is, on how they think. I don’t think you can determine that from their skin color. Maybe we’ve all had common experiences, but I doubt it’s all that much in common, other than we live in the same community, we love the same children, we love the same school and we try to make it the best we can without Critical Race Theory.
        Reeves: I’m totally against Critical Race Theory. I believe the theory states that certain races, like the white race, are the oppressors, and anyone of color is being oppressed and that we need to judge everyone by the color of their skin. In the 60s, that is what we fought against. We fought against judging people by what they looked like or their background. I understand we all have prejudices and personal bias. But if we’re looking at our system and how we teach our children and what we teach them, it’s centered on what is best for our children all the time. We’re looking at how we’re bringing them up, how we’re showing them to make good decisions. When I’m with a group of people, I’m not going to judge you based on what you look like. I’m going to judge you by whether we have a connection. It determines if our relationship is going to develop further. Not by what you look like, where your parents came from, what kind of occupation you have. If I don’t have a connection with you, I’m still going to be kind and nice to you. But I probably won’t go places with you outside the environment we’re in. And I think we need to teach our children that.
        Saevig: If any of you have had the opportunity to go to school board meetings, the superintendent has made it very clear that Critical Race Theory is not being taught in Oregon City Schools. This has become a phenomenon throughout the country. What people may not realize is that school boards really have very little jurisdiction over what is being taught overall. The state of Ohio - the folks you and I elect for the statehouse - are the folks who set the framework for this. We follow the Ohio learning standards, as a district. We follow what the state standards are and what the national standards are. Whether you agree with Critical Race Theory or not, let me say this: I think it’s very important that I don’t judge people on the color of their skin. We all bleed the same color. It doesn’t matter what color we are. You get ahead in this world through education, by what’s in your heart. I will take someone who’s got a strong family background who may not be the smartest person in the world academically, but if they got it in their heart that they’re going to work, that, to me, is the judge of true character. That is something that tends to get lost in this whole discussion.
Who are your campaign donors and what, if anything, do they expect in return?
        Saevig: My donor is Dan Saevig. I’ve spent $10,000 out-of-pocket in support of my campaign, with more to come. I do this for a very simple reason. I feel an obligation to the school system that educated me. I do not want to be beholden to anyone or any particular interest. I make the best decisions as I possibly can for our community.
        Cathers: I’m largely self-funded other than a handful of friends and family who think I would do a very nice job on behalf of this community. It’s just been individual donations from people I either know personally for a long time, or have met through this experience who like what I have brought to the table. I wanted to do this on my own terms. I wanted to make decisions that I thought were best for the community and not have that be influenced by anyone else other than the voters.
        Lewis: The largest portion is my wife and I, by far. Many people have spent smaller amounts, which have been reported.
        Reeves: Most of my campaign donations come from my husband and I. I have had smaller donations, which are very helpful for the things we’re doing and trying to do so that people understand what I stand for and why I am doing this. I don’t feel beholden to anyone. I have to stand for what I believe in and listen to the community and what they want me to do.









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