A room full of fired up parents met last week to hear from 10 local school board candidates.

The event was hosted by California Parents Union founder Tracy Henderson. The group was started during the COVID-19 pandemic and is known for opposing mask mandates and in-person school closures. About 15 people attended the forum.

While the school board candidates discussed many topics, they all agreed about teaching politically conservative values and advocating for parents’ rights in schools.

Many of them said they were inspired to run for school board seats because they disagreed with how COVID-19 policies were enforced in schools in Santa Barbara County.

Several of them also said they were inspired to run because of underperforming student achievement, and they argued that the best way to improve education is through parent advocacy.

Gabriel Morales, who is running for a seat on the Santa Barbara County Board of Education, said angry parents are the most powerful people in the school system.

Caroline Abate and Christy Lozano, who also attended the event, are running for Goleta Union School District school board seats, in Trustee Area 1 and Area 3, respectively. No more than one candidate per election seat attended the event.

“I think that as a board member we get to make some decisions about [teacher] union involvement,” Lozano said. “We vote on teacher involvement. So everybody sitting here will have a say as to what the union gets to do or not do.”

Sharon Jegottka, a candidate for the Santa Barbara Community College Governing Board in Trustee Area 5, said she wants to focus on easing the dual enrollment system and improving the technical education program in her district. 

Debi Stoker, a candidate for the SBCC Board of Trustees Area 1 seat, also attended the event.

Some candidates during last week’s forum opposed tracking students in English as a Second Language programs.

Efigenia Banales, who is running for a Santa Barbara Unified School District board seat, said she believes tracking students who are in ESL programs is detrimental to their progress in English learning.

Rosanne Crawford also said she opposes tracking students in ESL programs in K-12 schools.

Crawford is running to be the Santa Barbara County Board of Education trustee for Area 1. She said she worked for the California Department of Health Care Services before leaving her career to be more involved in her children’s education and the Parent-Teachers Association.

Colleen Estrada, who is running for the Santa Ynez Valley College School District board, said she was appalled by children being masked and schools being closed during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I knew that technology can only go so far, and home learning through the screen was going to be just a disaster,” she said. 

Candidates Phebe Mansur, who is running for the Santa Barbara Unified School District board, and Dani Blunk, who is running for the Hope Elementary School board, also attended the forum at the University Park Clubhouse in Goleta.  

According to Henderson, none of the candidates at the event had applied for endorsement from the CPU as of last week.

Noozhawk staff writer Grace Kitayama can be reached at gkitayama@noozhawk.com. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.