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Partisan School Board Races Struck Down By Utah Judge

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A Utah judge ruled this week against a law that would make state school board elections partisan.

Judge Andrew Stone made the ruling in Utah’s Third District Court. It blocks a law passed in the 2016 legislative session that would make candidates for this year’s state school board race have to run according to political platforms, like Democrat or Republican.

David Irvine is a lawyer for the plaintiffs in the case. He says the school board has been nonpartisan since 1950. Irvine argued that making these positions partisan would violate the Utah Constitution which bans partisan tests for employment in the public school system.

"It means a great deal to the people of Utah and their kids. Because if school board members have to swear allegiance to and fealty to a political party platform, then that becomes a highly partisan matter of governance," Irvine says. 

Which, he says, doesn’t have a place in managing public education.

Brittany Cummins shares a similar opinion. She’s a member of the state school board. Cummins says roles like the governor or legislators should weigh in on a range of issues that define Democratic or Republican platforms, but those issues shouldn’t be drawn into the race for school board.

"When we’re talking about education, I’m hopeful that the conversation during campaign time will be specifically about education policy," Cummins says. 

Republican legislators changed the law, they said, so the public could better understand candidates who were campaigning in geographically large districts.  

The Utah Attorney Generals office defended the case. Representatives were unavailable for comment.  They are considering whether to appeal the ruling and take the case to the Utah Supreme Court. 

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