Blake Thomas: 2021 candidate for Warren Township High School District 121 board
Five candidates running for four, 4-year terms.
Occupation: Director of Engineering, NoRedInk
Civic involvement: School board meeting attendee and regular speaker for several years
Q. Why are you running for this office, whether for reelection or election the first time? Is there a particular issue that motivates you, and if so, what is it?
A. Financial issues facing the district, management of changes related to the COVID-19 pandemic, and issues around representation in curriculum.
Q. How would you grade the current school board on its response to the pandemic? Why?
A. C+ or perhaps a B-. Attention was paid to best practices and indications from public health institutions, which is good. However, the decision to preemptively return to in-person instruction was made when the community was still at the "highest risk of community transmission," while the implementation of safety measures was subpar and not particularly robust.
Q. How do you view your role in confronting the pandemic: provide leadership even if unpopular, give a voice to constituents -- even ones with whom you disagree, or defer to state authorities?
A. All three of those, frankly in exactly that order. Leaders must be prepared to make choices in the best interest of the community irrespective of their popularity and, in turn, ultimately accept the consequences of those decisions, which may well mean losing an election. They should certainly be thoughtful and receptive to voices in the community, but must be clear minded in choosing a path for the good of students, teachers and the community rather than their own approval rating.
Q. Did your district continue to adequately serve students during the disruptions caused by the pandemic? If so, please cite an example of how it successfully adjusted to continue providing services. If not, please cite a specific example of what could have been done better.
A. No, it did not. Teachers are still waiting to be vaccinated even after the school has begun a return to in-person learning, well before either the county health department or the CDC indicated it was anything other than risky. This as near to the definition of mismanagement that I can cite. I would further add, however, that the schools attention to social-emotional well-being of students and staff during this time has also been woefully inadequate, despite the lip service to the contrary.
Q. Do you have a plan on how to safely and effectively conduct classes in the spring? What have you learned from the fall semester that you would change in the spring?
A. First: only return to class when the entirety of the staff and a reasonable benchmark of students have received both doses of vaccine, or we fall below the bench marks for community spread. Remote learning is challenging, but students & staff will not be or feel safe until that point is reached. Once we're nearing those milestones, phase in the hybrid learning plan while offering both students and staff options for opting out according to both risk factors and work safety considerations.
Q. What is your position on allowing high school sports to continue during the pandemic? Be specific.
A. Indoor sports should be discontinued altogether. Outdoor sports involving limited or no contact (e.g. baseball, softball, volleyball, perhaps soccer) may be allowed according to rational bench marks. Full contact sports (e.g. football) should not be allowed until more stringent bench marks are met. The costs and ramifications of requiring a negative test prior to games should be considered. Practices should structured so as to be no-contact.