Milton School Board Race Jolted By Candidates’ Manifesto | Off Message

Milton School Board Race Jolted By Candidates’ Manifesto


At a 2017 school board meeting in Milton - FILE: JAMES BUCK
  • File: James Buck
  • At a 2017 school board meeting in Milton
Three candidates running for the nonpartisan Milton school board have raised alarm in the community after releasing a list of “shared beliefs” that references critical race theory, “indoctrination,” as well as support for the “nuclear family” and “law and order.”

Several of the 21 bullet points echo politicized talking points that have pulled school boards into the national culture wars. Seven Days wrote about the trend in a cover story published on Wednesday.

Should the three candidates — Brock Rouse, Scott O'Brien and Nichole Delong — win election at Town Meeting Day on March 1, they would have the votes to control the direction of the five-member school board. Some community members believe such a scenario could lead the board to walk back some of the district's recent equity initiatives.

Milton Town School District board chair Rick Dooley, who faces a challenge from Delong for a one-year seat on the board, said the messaging coming from the three candidates is concerning.

"The town and the school all benefit when the board is working together, they're coming from their individual backgrounds, their individual ideologies, they evaluate facts, they look at information, they have a robust discussion and they make a decision based on what's best for the Milton Town School District," Dooley said in an interview Thursday. "And I don't think you will have that if you have a politically charged group that is looking to take over a majority stake in the board."

Some of the tenets listed in the candidates' email "are not in the purview of the school board," Dooley added.

The candidates have not publicly spoken about their beliefs but rather released their list of shared “common views and beliefs” to people who emailed them and asked about their campaigns. Seven Days obtained a copy of the email on Thursday and asked for comment. All three declined and said they would not speak to the media. They also did not take part in a Lake Champlain Access Television program intended to highlight local school board candidates.

Among the bullet points the candidates shared:

  • We believe in One Nation under God.
  • We believe in the Nuclear Family
  • We believe that [critical race theory] has no place in our curriculum and is divisive not unifying
  • We believe in providing our children with an Exceptional Education built on Free Thinking not Indoctrination
  • We believe in teaching our children History and learning from our successes & mistakes not trying to re-write or erase our history
  • We believe in Americanism not Marxism
  • We believe in Capitalism not Socialism
  • We believe in Personal Accountability
  • We believe in Parental Involvement and Transparency
The candidates are also against mask and COVID-19 vaccine mandates, saying they believe the issues should be "parents choice." A bullet point that said, "We believe in Equality not Equity" was changed in a subsequent email to, " We believe in Racial Equality & Educational Equity."
It’s unclear how the candidates define any of these issues. But at a March 2021 school board meeting, O'Brien, the candidate for the two-year board seat, spoke out against both the anti-racism work underway in Milton and the Black Lives Matter flag, which the district started flying in 2019. The flag was stolen twice in 2020.

"White privilege is the teaching of racism, it's not teaching equality, so that has absolutely no place in our school, our curriculum," O'Brien said during public comment last March.

  • Facebook
Milton community member Lisa Rees, who serves on the school district's equity committee, said she finds Delong, O'Brien and Rouse's messaging disheartening and believes that if they win, the school district's work around diversity, equity and inclusion would be in jeopardy.

This fall, the district hired Wilmer Chavarria to serve as its first director of equity and education support systems. At a school board meeting in September, Superintendent Amy Rex said Chavarria would be tasked with helping to create a more equitable school district by examining curriculum and instructional practices. He also heads up an equity advisory committee.

Because the candidates are only sending their list of beliefs to those who email them, Rees feels they're not being transparent with the larger community about what they stand for.

"If people want to vote for [candidates with that platform], that's their prerogative," Rees said. "But I really want people to make an informed decision."

Incumbent board member Kumulia Long, who faces a challenge from Rouse for a three-year term, thinks that "the public doesn't necessarily understand the role of the school board." This has created a "disconnect" in the community, he said.

Long, who is Black and ran as a Republican for state Senate in 2020, said he's struggled to understand the term "critical race theory." He’s come to the conclusion that in order to educate people about racism, you must talk about it and "not [be] so concrete in our old-school beliefs that we ignore some of the things going on in the school."

When it comes to diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives, Long said he favors taking a slow, deliberate approach and educating the public about the work.

Though Long identifies as a “moderate, [Gov.] Phil Scott kind of Republican,” he doesn’t think political affiliation or beliefs should influence school board members' work. Rather, the focus should be on what is best for students, he said.
The full list - SCREENSHOT
  • Screenshot
  • The full list
With less than two weeks until Election Day, the three candidates’ manifesto appears to have polarized the community. A screenshot of the email posted to a private Milton Facebook page garnered nearly 200 hundred comments.

"Is anyone (else) bothered by 3 people running as a unit with list of (apparently) agreed upon ideas and tactics?" a commenter wrote.

Many said they hadn’t received answers to their follow-up questions.

“Love it when politicians say things like ‘believing in the rights of children of all races and orientations and genders etc.’ and then immediately start going on about ‘nuclear families’ and demonizing a topic that isn't taught at any level lower than University Graduate Program,” another wrote in an apparent reference to critical race theory.

One group member said she did not believe the list should have been posted on the Facebook page. "Sure seems like a lot of people bashing and it seems awful unfair to those who are not here to stand up for themselves," she wrote. "Is this a public shaming page or what?"

Another member responded: "This is a town page. These folks are running for the town school board," she wrote. "Voters absolutely should have the right to see this."