Parental rights, medical freedom, and sex education took center stage during a virtual forum for candidates running for the Irvine Unified School District Board of Education.
Debra Kamm and Marlene Bronson, both Irvine Unified parents running for Trustee Area 2—which covers the south side of Woodbridge, Westpark and University Park—attended the forum, which was hosted by Irvine Parents Unified, a grassroots parents’ group, on Sept. 8.
Area 2’s third candidate, Irvine Unified parent and teacher Katie McEwen, was unable to attend due to scheduling conflicts—as was Dr. Jeff Kim, an educator and the single candidate running unopposed for Area 4, which covers Portola, a portion of Orchard Hills and Orange County’s Great Park.
Bronson described herself as a business owner, former homeschooling educator, and an advocate for children with disabilities. She is the mother of two adult children.
Bronson said she decided to run for the Irvine Unified school board because she believes in “being a voice for the children and the parents.”
“Parents need … to be able to select the curriculum [and] to be able to address any concerns with what is being taught in the classroom,” she said.
Kamm is an education and health advocate with an MBA in marketing from San Diego State University. She is a mother of two, with one adult child and one 17-year-old who is a student in the Irvine Unified School District.
In 2001, Kamm co-founded California Heart Connection, a nonprofit organization that provided support for parents whose children had heart conditions. Kamm’s son was born with a rare heart condition.
Through her nonprofit, Kamm said she became a strong proponent of informed consent for parents, helping conduct nationwide research on miscommunications between physicians and parents. She has authored or co-authored articles for medical research journals and chapters in cardiology textbooks.
“I am for children first, parental rights, and I’m for transparency for all community members, including where we are spending our tax dollars,” Kamm said.
The first question posed by the moderator, Tiffany Craft of Irvine Parents United, questioned how the candidates would handle directives by the government or administration in the context of medical mandates, ethnic studies graduation requirements, and sex education graduation requirements.
Both Bronson and Kamm said that on the questions of medical mandates and graduation requirements, the choice should be left up to parents and students.
In response to a question about voting against the board majority, Kamm and Bronson were once again on the same page.
Kamm said she believes most board members are backed by teachers unions and vote with the unions’ interests in mind.
“Being not affiliated with the teachers union, I am very comfortable being the lone voice and being the independent voice for parents and taxpayers,” Kamm said. “I would have no qualms at all about … voting what I think.”
Like Kamm, Bronson said she does not have any affiliation with teachers unions and would not have a problem voting with her conscience.
However, when questions were asked about the quality of education in Irvine Unified, as well as outdated policies, providing opportunities for students with disabilities, and engaging constituents, the candidates disagreed on some points.
Bronson said she would keep parents informed by being in frequent contact with parent groups like Irvine Parents United. She also said she would help advocate for parents of students with disabilities, saying that the district would be accommodating if parents were persistent and cordial.
Kamm disagreed, however, saying, “We have a lot of problems that arise with students with disabilities.”
“We have a lot of families who have requested services and the services are denied, and they have to fight, they have to file for due process, they have to go to hearings, they have to get remediation,” Kamm said. “Irvine also will not be transparent and will not show the litigation against the families when they sue families with children with disabilities. I think that’s a problem because I think that the public needs to know where their taxpayer dollars are going. And Irvine needs to be transparent about the fact that they are not providing services that are needed.”
Kamm said she herself had been a victim of outdated board policies when she was kicked out of a board meeting due to a decades-old policy that “prohibited criticism.”
Continuing the discussion on board policies, Craft asked the candidates to share their thoughts on the superintendent’s relationship with the board.
Bronson declined to answer the question, saying she didn’t know enough about the relationship to answer the question, but Kamm said she thought the board delegated too much responsibility to the superintendent.
“Board members are the ones who are elected by their constituents. They have the responsibility of actually running the district and … they are not supposed to delegate any responsibilities,” Kamm said. “I think the board needs to take more control. And that’s why we see things like the district policies being outdated. There’s just a lot of things that have been let go because they have taken a hands-off approach. And I would change that if I were on the board.”
Regarding a question about social justice curriculum, Bronson said she thought schools should focus on core subjects such as reading, writing, mathematics, and history.
Kamm said the question of social justice in schools should be broken down based on its impacts.
“How does it improve educational outcomes or critical thinking?” Kamm asked. “What we are supposed to be teaching the kids is how to analyze things and how to separate opinion from fact. One of the issues with social justice … is incorporating people’s opinions rather than stating facts, and that’s getting in the way of religious freedoms and personal beliefs. Parents need to have more control over these opinions that are being provided to our students. [Students are] supposed to learn about things, not supposed to be indoctrinated and taught a certain way to think.”
Irvine Unified Council Parent Teacher Association and League of Women Voters of Orange Coast will host a second candidate forum on Oct. 12 at 7 p.m.