School board raceMix education with a little bit of politics and an emotionally charged issue like gay rights and you get a Board of Education election this year with the potential to become as heated as the 1998 same-sex marriage vote.
may become heated
Parties on both sides of
the gay rights issue are
running for office
By Crystal Kua
One reason is the players.
The candidates for the Board of Education Oahu at-large race include the wife and son of Mike Gabbard, who helped lead the successful charge against same-sex marriage in Hawaii in 1998.
Carol and Ryan Gabbard are running on a platform of family values.
Carolyn Golojuch, another candidate in the same race, has a gay son and is president of the support group Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays.
They are among 18 candidates vying for three at large seats on Oahu. The list will be cut to six candidates after Saturday's primary election.
Another reason the campaign may become heated is the issue.
The board in early 1999 approved to send to public hearing a set of rule changes that if adopted would prohibit harassment based on civil rights categories such as race, religion, age and gender. Before the rules were sent, the board voted to add "sexual orientation" as a protected classification.
They did so back then after receiving virtually no opposition and hearing stories of students who were physically and verbally harassed because others thought they were gay. Golojuch was one of those who testified in favor of protections.
Because of the slow public hearing process, the rules were not ready for hearing until this past May and June.
"There were a number of BOE members during the process who gave us the idea ... that this was not going to be a problem, that these rules and revisions would pass," said Nancy Kern, a member of the Safe Schools Coalition who supports the rules change.
But then the opposition to the sexual orientation language came from Mike Gabbard, Jason Jones, the former leader of the Hawaii Young Republicans, and others who also opposed same-sex marriage.
"This is playing politics with children," said Jones, who moved to Washington, D.C., a month ago.
Candidate Carol Gabbard, a speech pathologist who home-schooled her children and who supports character education, also believes that there are sufficient protections in the current rules for all children.
"We want to make sure that all kids are protected and we don't need to mention all the different groups. Everybody has a right to safe education," Gabbard said.
The proposed harassment rules are scheduled to come back before the board next week -- in the midst of the election season.
Proposed rules in troubleBut instead of going to the full board, which is normally the procedure, the rules are in trouble because of the "sexual orientation" reference and are instead headed back to the student services committee.
Another reason some see the school board election becoming as heated as the same-sex marriage issue is that the race affects more than 180,000 schoolchildren across the state.
"We consider (the Board of Education) at the heart because the children are the leaders of the next generation," said Garret Hashimoto, state chairman of the Hawaii Christian Coalition, opposed to a special protected category for gays and lesbians.
The Board of Education candidates believe that the race will focus on how they stand on fundamental education issues such as class size, teacher pay, repair and maintenance of school facilities and reading scores. They say their stand on issues related to gays and lesbians hasn't come up in candidate forums.
Golojuch, for example, said her years of social work, her work with special education issues and her participation in public library activities should be the basis of her candidacy. Carol Gabbard also believes that voters want to hear candidates' views on public school issues.
Other issues importantBut those outside the race say that candidates' positions on noneducation issues is also important to voters.
"There's a very direct connection between the decisions that the board makes and the schools our children go to," Kern said. "The policies that the board develops are reflected in the classroom and it's important for all of us to learn and become aware of how a board member stands on these issues."
Hashimoto said his organization will be sending out questionnaires to school board candidates so that its members and supporters know how candidates stand on certain issues.
"The public should know who they're voting for, who their elected officials are and morality is certainly a major issue in a child's upbringing," Hashimoto said. "If people ask me who I'm voting for, I'll tell them."
Ryan Gabbard, 24, said that he believes the support for the ban on same-sex marriage could materialize into voter support for him and his mother. "Gabbard is a well known name," he said.
Gabbard said voters should be aware of candidates who are against "family values," pointing to Golojuch's association with Parents and Friends of Gays and Lesbians as an example. "That's what I'm talking about."
Golojuch said her unconditional love for both her children is the greatest example of family values. "I'm not going back in the closet. If I lose because I love my son then I lose."