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District 518 candidates answer questions on sex education, costs and gendered bathrooms

All four candidates seeking a District 518 school board seat appeared at the Worthington Event Center Tuesday night.

District 518 School Board candidates Lori Dudley (from left), Erin Schutte, LaDean "Butch" Fletcher and Adam Blume address those gathered for a Candidate Forum Tuesday evening at the Worthington Event Center.
District 518 School Board candidates Lori Dudley (from left), Erin Schutte, LaDean "Butch" Fletcher and Adam Blume address those gathered for a Candidate Forum Tuesday evening at the Worthington Event Center.
Tim Middagh/The Globe
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WORTHINGTON — Rounding out a series of community forums sponsored by FORWARD Worthington, candidates seeking a seat on the District 518 school board appeared before attendees Tuesday evening at the Worthington Event Center.

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With three terms on the school board set to expire at the end of this year, incumbents Adam Blume and Lori Dudley are joined on the ballot by local attorney Erin Schutte and bus driver and farmer LaDean “Butch” Fletcher.

Sex Ed and Gender

Early on, conversations turned to sex education when the question of whether or not the subject should be taught in public schools, and if so, how early it should begin.

Blume and Fletcher expressed that, by the time students reach high school, they already seem to know a lot, thanks to social media and the internet.

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“I don’t think they should start until they’re in high school,” said Fletcher, “but…how can you keep it out, because it’s on the internet.”

Blume agreed that the high school level seemed like a more appropriate time for aspects of sex education, while Dudley pointed out that starting in middle school and continuing into high school, District 518 students have health classes that include some degree of sex education in the curriculum, and she would be in favor of maintaining that.

“Our school district needs to prepare our students for life, and what they are going to encounter outside of their classroom. This involves teaching sex education and health class,” Schutte said, adding that teaching important life skills and responsible decision-making was why she supported teaching money management and economics in schools as well as sex education.

Candidates were also asked about their stances on unisex bathrooms in schools and the participation of trans youth in sports.

Both Dudley and Blume stated that they struggled with the idea of “crossover” for trans athletes, due to perceived unfairness — though there isn’t consistent research to suggest transgender athletes have an advantage over non-transgender competitors and medical experts have gone on the record stating that genetic make-up and reproductive anatomy are not “useful indicators” of a person’s athletic ability.

However, Dudley added that as members of the Minnesota State High School League, District 518 would continue to take cues and guidance from the league on how these topics are being addressed across the state, in order to implement their own policies here.

“We'll have to decide as a board what that looks like,” she stated.

Though neither Schutte nor Fletcher explicitly gave their stance on the topic of transgender athletes, both agreed that having policies in place was a necessity. During her answer, Schutte impressed upon the audience that if elected, her priorities would be making sure students felt “safe, secure and protected,” in schools.

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On the topic of unisex bathrooms, while multiple candidates again impressed the need for proactive policy, Blume stated that while he supported unisex bathrooms in theory, he worried about where to “draw the line,” before referencing widely debunked rumors about litterboxes in schools.

Costs and Agriculture

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Though questions turned to topics like retaining preschoolers — prompting candidates to discuss funding and logistics for the recently proposed all-day preschool for four-year-olds — and reaching a diverse student body, another emerging topic of Tuesday’s forum was the cost of education, particularly in relation to Worthington’s agricultural community.

While candidates acknowledged that the brunt of education costs often fell on farmers in the form of property taxes, incumbents Dudley and Blume both stated they felt the relationship between Worthington’s agricultural community and school district had improved over the years.

One of the multiple farmers currently serving on the school board, Blume said he believed that misinformation played a big role in any tensions, pointing to the benefits of tax credits for farmers.

“ I think the biggest thing is just making sure everyone's informed,” he said. “It's not so much a disconnect anymore. I think it's gotten better and I think trust is there. And I think we're headed in the right direction with the ag community.”

Similarly, Dudley said maintaining communication with the farming community was crucial to getting school referendums passed in the city of Worthington. Fletcher and Schutte both brought up their backgrounds within the agricultural community — Fletcher as a current farmer and Schutte as the daughter of farmers — to say they understood the impacts education costs could have.

“I think one of the most important responsibilities is to make sure that our public schools operate responsibly, efficiently and effectively,” Schutte said. “And that means being fiscally responsible with how the district spends its money and asks its taxpayers to support our schools.”

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As the forum came to a close, several candidates took the time to thank the crowd — and, in particular, the many students who had come out — for their attendance, before asking for the community’s vote on Nov. 8.

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Emma McNamee joined The Globe team in October 2021 as a reporter covering Crime & Courts, Politics, and the City beats. Born and raised in Duluth, Minn., McNamee left her hometown to attend school in Chicago at Columbia College. She graduated in 2021 with a degree in Multimedia Journalism, with a concentration in News & Feature Writing and a minor in Creative Writing.
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