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Conservative candidates sweep Grants Pass school board election

A brick building with an engraved stone sign on the top reading "Grants Pass High School." There's a football score sign that says on the bottom, "Mel Ingram Field"
Grants Pass High School
Grants Pass High School

Four candidates endorsed by the Josephine County Republican party all appear to have won elections for seats on the non-partisan board of Grants Pass School District 7.

The four new school board members, who ran under the endorsement of the county Republican party, will together hold a majority on the seven person board.

The certified results of the election will take weeks to be finalized, but the four candidates held healthy leads over their opponents as of Thursday, May 18.

In position one, Dustin Smith holds a 679 vote lead against the only incumbent running for re-election, Scott Nelson.

Chad Dybdahl leads with 52% of the vote in position two, over challengers Drew Rees and Greg Fishwick.

In position seven, Joseph Schmidt holds a hefty 50% of the vote over the two other candidates, Kari Bassett and Frank Boothby.

Nathan Seable is one of the new board members. He leads against Juliet Long in position six by over 1,000 votes. Seable said he was inspired to run because of his family background in education. Additionally, he was influenced by recent controversy in the district.

In 2021, the district 7 school board fired two teachers who started a political campaign known as “I Resolve” to roll back protections for transgender students. That decision was later reversed and the teachers were reinstated.

The controversy sparked protests from students. The two teachers sued the district over the ordeal, but their case was dismissed in March, 2023.

Seable said he’s concerned about recent Oregon Department of Education guidance to protect the privacy of gender expansive students.

“There’s clearly language in there that encourages educators in certain circumstances to cut the parents out of the decision making if needed,” Seable said.

The state guidance says including parents in conversations about gender identity is preferred, but schools should develop individual plans with students if outing them could expose them to harassment, bullying or violence.

According to a 2022 survey from the LGBTQ youth non-profit The Trevor Project, less than a third of transgender and non-binary youth said their home was a safe space.

Seable also said he believes topics in schools should not be politicized.

“When it comes to some of these social movement issues, you’re bordering on that, instead of teaching about it, it’s promoting it,” he said. “And I think there is some of that.”

Seable said he wants so-called “culture war” topics to be kept out of schools.

But, Josephine County Democratic party Chair Colette Storms said getting rid of politics really means eliminating progress made for student equality.

“They’re just whipped up in this fear of trans students,” she said. “It’s just a ruse, it’s just a cover.”

The Josphine County Democratic party also recommended a series of candidates, but stopped short of promoting a slate for the non-partisan positions according to Storms.

As a new board member, Seable said he wants to focus on other parts of student success in the district as well.

That includes helping the more than half of high school graduates in the district who don’t head to college. He said investing in apprenticeships and entrepreneurship skills will help them find their career path.

According to school district policy, the new board members will take office at the first regular meeting in July.

Roman Battaglia is a regional reporter for Jefferson Public Radio. After graduating from Oregon State University, Roman came to JPR as part of the Charles Snowden Program for Excellence in Journalism in 2019. He then joined Delaware Public Media as a Report For America fellow before returning to the JPR newsroom.