This July 30 photo shows Juneau school board candidate Aaron Spratt. (Dana Zigmund/Juneau Empire)

First-time candidate seeks school board seat

Spratt criticizes current board’s COVID policy

Aaron Spratt is a man of strong convictions.

His convictions led him to leave a Navy career for the ministry and to declare his candidacy for the Juneau Board of Education. In October, he will face off against five other candidates for one of three open seats.

In a recent interview with the Empire, he said that he’s running for the board to give a voice to parents who are frustrated by the decisions made by the current school board — particularly around student masking and COVID-19 surveillance testing for unvaccinated students involved in activities.

“That’s private medical information. It’s not anyone’s business what decisions families make. No one should be ostracized,” he said. “I’m troubled by the lack of privacy and discrimination based on vaccination status for sports.”

Spratt and his wife have five children, three of whom are school age. He said that he and his wife home-school through the IDEA Homeschool program but said that he is “very familiar” with what’s happening in Juneau’s schools through his community involvement and his child’s school-based sports experience.

Full-time, in-person learning returns for Juneau’s students

Masking concerns

One of Spratt’s primary concerns is the district’s COVID-19 mitigation plans.

Spratt said that his son is involved in athletics at the high school level and that he was concerned for his son’s health and safety as he played basketball while wearing a mask last year.

Currently, all students and staff are required to wear masks inside the school but can remove them when outside. In addition, the district requires all unvaccinated students involved in sports or activities to have a weekly COVID test, a process that started last spring —and a practice encouraged by the CDC. Spratt called the testing process, which involves a nasal swab, “invasive.”

“I’m very troubled by the testing, isolation and masking. It’s extremely harmful,” Spratt said, noting that suicide is the second leading cause of death for teens and that he is concerned that efforts to curb viral spread could lead to an uptick in suicide.

Rather than requiring universal masking, Spratt said that parents should consider the issue and “make the best decision based on the social and emotional needs” of their children. He said he fears that young children are not learning social skills as teachers and peers wear masks.

“I just want parents to make the best decisions for their child. If they are uncomfortable, they may have to find another appropriate option,” he said.

He acknowledged that making a health-based decision with no data about the health status of other students or precautions in place could be difficult for parents. But, he said the school board should not make decisions “motivated by fear,” and that schools should be a “safe physical and emotional place for students,” and that parents should be free to make masking decisions.

The school district’s guidelines are consistent with the mitigation strategies in place for the City and Borough of Juneau and reflect the advice of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Currently, Juneau is experiencing a spike in infections and has a 6% seven-day rolling positivity rate. City case numbers are at pandemic highs, as are local hospitalizations. The overall community risk level remains at Level-3 modified, despite Juneau’s relatively high vaccination rate.

As the school board considered the back-to-school mask policy earlier this month, Spratt called into the meeting to encourage the board to toss the practice of masking aside.

“I ask the school board to consider the physical and mental safety of our students,” he said in the meeting. “I encourage the school to listen to testimony. We elected you to do the right thing even when it’s the hard thing to do. This has a tremendous impact on the health of our students.”

Among 15 callers that night, nine opposed the mask policy, and six supported it. Board members voted unanimously in favor of the mask mandate to start the school year, noting that the policy will be reviewed throughout the year as conditions change.

School board OKs mask plan for fall

Other challenges

Spratt said that he had seen the effect that last year’s COVID-19-driven schedule had on local students and said that he found it “tremendously impactful.”

Due to COVID-19, students participated in distance learning for a large portion of the year. In January, students started an optional, partial-return to in-person learning and gradually geared up to four in-person days each week. Wednesday’s were set aside for independent study.

“It will take a lot of work to get them (students) back up to where they were,” he said.

Overall, Spratt said that he wants to empower parents to be more involved with the schools.“I pray the school board will listen to the parents and their goals. I want our schools to empower parents to be involved in what their students are being taught. I’m not saying that the teacher’s aren’t excellent. But, the board can create an attitude of positivity and the community should be involved.”

Spratt said he’s worried about aspects of the school curriculum and finances.

He said that if elected, he will bring fiscal conservatism to the board.

“I’m troubled that we have the highest spend per student. I want to look at that and find a way to get creative,” he said, adding that he’d like to see standardized test scores improve for Juneau’s students.

In addition, Spratt said that he fears that Juneau’s students are not adequately prepared for life upon graduation.

“Are students pushed to excel or just to pass tests? I worry that it’s just to pass tests and not to excel,” he said.

Spratt said he’d like to see a more significant emphasis on trades-based education and that he was in the process of researching whether metal or woodshop classes were available at the high schools.

According to online course catalogs, Juneau’s high schools offer a wide range of vocational education classes, including woods, construction, metals, home building, auto mechanics, small engine repair, engineering, computer-based drafting, and culinary arts. Diploma endorsements are available for vocational training.

Keeping certain subjects out of the curriculum is also important to Spratt.

“I’m troubled by the influence of critical race theory and the racialization that’s inherent in it,” he said. “I don’t think Juneau teaches it now but I want to make sure it’s not introduced.”

According to the New York Times, critical race theory is “a graduate-level academic framework that encompasses decades of scholarship” and aims to look at systemic racism in American laws and culture.

However, over the last several months, the topic has been a hot-button issue for school boards around the country as critics object to what they see as pitting groups of students against each other based on race.

According to Ted Wilson, director, teacher and learning support for the Juneau School District, critical race theory is not part of Juneau’s curriculum.

Background

Spratt was raised in Indiana and is a graduate of Purdue University, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in aviation technology. He’s a Navy veteran who initially enlisted to serve as a weatherman. After graduating from Purdue, he received an officer’s commission and served as an aviator until his retirement.

After his naval service, Spratt returned to Indiana and enrolled in the Concordia Theological Seminary, earning a Master of Divinity.

“I never had a desire to be a pastor,” he said, explaining that the care and support his family received from a pastor while stationed in Washington changed his mind. “After that, I said, ‘I want to do that,’” he explained.

He came to Juneau three and half years ago after being called to Faith Lutheran Church in the Mendenhall Valley.

His family enjoys dining at Donna’s Family Restaurant and Deckhand Dave’s. In Juneau, his favorite place is “wherever the fish are biting” out on the water or up in the air.

About the election

Spratt is running against four newcomers and one incumbent for one of three open seats.

Other candidates include Elizabeth Siddon, currently the school board president, and newcomers Wiljordon V. Sangster, Thomas Buzärd, Amber Frommherz and Ibn Bailey.

The election will take place on Oct. 5 and will be conducted primarily by mail.

• Contact reporter Dana Zigmund at dana.zigmund@juneauschools.com or 907-308-4891.

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