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LPS board race falling along ideological more than party lines

The ongoing controversy sparked by gender identity handouts used in a teacher training session this fall has seeped into the upcoming school board elections, helping to define the race along ideological rather than party lines.

A now crowded field of candidates for three seats on the Lincoln Board of Education includes two Republican candidates supported by CARE, a parent's rights group formed by critics of the district's use of the materials.

It also includes Republican Connie Duncan, who has one Democratic campaign co chair and the support of a Democrat who helped start a second parent group.

The group, called Every Student Counts, supports LPS' use of the materials and other efforts at inclusiveness.

The handouts given to teachers at Irving Middle School were not shared with students, but critics said the suggestions about how to deal with students promoted one belief system over another, specifically the idea that gender is a spectrum rather than a binary system.

Some national media outlets seized on the term "purple penguins," which came from one example of ways to create names for classes or groups of students instead of using the terms girls and boys.

Board of Education races are officially nonpartisan so the top two vote getters will advance to May's general election regardless of their political party.

That means Democrats Annie Mumgaard and John Cartier vying for the District 4 seat in central Lincoln will advance, as will Democratic incumbentKatie McLeese Stephenson and Republican newcomer Matt Schulte in District 6.

The District 2 seat has three Republican candidates: Rachel Terry, one of the CARE founders, Duncan and Norman Dority, who has previously run for LPS board, City Council and state Board of Education.

Although Schulte, the executive director of Campus Life, says he is not an active member of CARE, the group is supporting him and a recent fundraiser at the state's Republican headquarters included Terry and Schulte but not Duncan.

The event was organized by former City Councilwoman Robin Eschliman, vice president of CARE, who asked to use the building for the fundraiser. Spray said the party offers some resources to interested Republican candidates, including use of the state headquarters and voter data. That's why Eschliman said she asked to use the building for the February fundraiser.

Although Lancaster County Republican Chairman Matt Innis said the event was not sponsored by the county party, he said it does not support Duncan because she hasn't asked for it and because she didn't speak out against the board's stance on the gender identity and parents' rights issues.

"The county party does not support Connie Duncan because she's not a Republican," he said. "She's never asked for our support."

Spray said although the state party's rules don't allow it to endorse, support or spend money on one Republican candidate over another in a primary race unless the central committee votes to support an incumbent the county party isn't officially part of the state party. The state party doesn't have direct control over the county party, which sublets space at the state headquarters, he said.

On the other end of the spectrum, Cathy Beecham, a Democrat, recently held a "meet and greet" for Duncan, whose campaign chairs are Richard Meginnis, a Republican who is the current District 2 school board member, and Liz Ring Carlson, a Democrat.

And Doug Evans, who is advising Duncan, said there is likely to be an event at state headquarters for her.

"It's my understanding that Duane Acklie and a number of other important Republicans have decided to host a meet and greet for Connie Duncan at Republican headquarters," he said.

The controversy over gender identity may have helped encourage some candidates to run, but it's not the only issue likely to distinguish them.

Terry, for instance, has also made district spending and property tax rates an issue one that's always important to Republicans and groups like the Lincoln Independent Business Association.

Other candidates, including Duncan and McLeese Stephenson, have focused on issues including increasing the graduation rate. Mumgaard, a Democratic candidate for District 4, has said ushering in new technology will be a major issue for the board. Cartier, her Democratic opponent, has said making sure all kids have equal access to education is important. Schulte has talked about reducing the reliance on mandated testing.

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