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In East Penn, dueling slates face off on diversity, safety issues | #schoolsaftey

In East Penn, district diversity efforts and school safety were top of mind for voters who turned out Tuesday to cast their ballots in the primary race for school board director seats. Five positions will be up for grabs in November, each with four-year terms.

Early, unofficial results show that a contested school board race is likely in November.

In total, there were eleven candidates, including two dueling slates with five candidates each, running in the primary election. All slate candidates crossfiled.

Brian Wessner, the only candidate running independently from a slate, did not crossfile —  he appeared only on the Democratic ballot.

Early results show the slate known as Your Voice on the Board and backed by the Lehigh County Republican Committee, were ahead in the Republican primary. Candidates on that slate were Paul Barbehenn, Matt Mull, Angelic Schneider, Kristofer DePaolo and Lawrence Huyssen.

In the Democratic primary, the opposing slate composed of both Democrats and Republicans, including Joshua Levinson, Jeffrey Jankowski, Gabrielle Klotz, Timothy Kelly and Shonta Ford, were in the lead. Levinson and Jankowski were the only incumbents on the ballot — they are the current board president and vice president, respectively.

Jankowski and Kelly are Republicans, while Levinson, Klotz and Ford are Democrats.

Together, the slate pledged to focus on mental health supports and recouping learning loss caused by the pandemic while making sure all students feel welcomed in East Penn.

Vanessa Anders, 20, voted for Levinson because “he’s been a good voice on the board” throughout the past few years. Anders also voted for the four other slate candidates because she feels they will prioritize diversity and inclusion in the district.

“As someone who believes that everyone should be treated equally, I feel it’s important to make sure that continues on in the district,” said Anders, a district graduate.

Anders said she was concerned the Your Voice on the Board slate would focus on critical race theory if elected.

“I believe that they are trying to make non-white students more marginalized in the district,” she said. “Any members of a diverse community should feel comfortable going to school and be secure in what they’re doing.”

Barbehenn previously told The Morning Call he does not believe CRT is formally a part of the district’s curriculum, and it is not a focus of the slate’s candidates.

Your Voice on the Board candidates said their true priorities if elected would be school safety and discipline, as well as making space for people who feel their opinions are unwanted.

Chelsea Kehs, a district parent and graduate, said she did her “homework” on the school board race and turned out to vote for Your Voice on the Board candidates after watching videos from the candidates on Facebook, she said.

“They have some great new approaches to hopefully take care of some of the issues going on and make things a little bit better for the kids,” Kehs said, noting school safety at Emmaus High School as her biggest concern.

“Specifically, the high school I’m not happy with,” Kehs said, “with the lockdowns and the violence and tobacco use.”

She’s concerned about fights at the high school because her son will be a ninth grader next year.

“I’m hoping that that gets resolved, and it gets more attention,” Kehs said.

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