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Nonpartisan Duval School Board candidates spotlighted by DeSantis nods – The Florida Times-Union

Four women are running for two seats on the Duval County School Board during a year when culture wars and endorsements by Gov. Ron DeSantis have encouraged a sense that there’s a lot at stake.
“We are going to fundamentally transform Florida’s school boards and it starts on August 23,” trumpeted the 1776 Project PAC, a national committee centered on the idea of purging critical race theory from public schools, in a tweet last month saying the committee and DeSantis both support District 2 challenger April Carney and District 6 incumbent Charlotte Joyce.
The races for the nonpartisan seats coincide with the emergence in school board politics of another group, Moms for Liberty, whose Duval County chapter described itself online as “dedicated to the survival of America by unifying, educating and empowering parents to defend their parental rights at all levels of government.”
The introduction of endorsements by DeSantis, a Republican often mentioned as a potential presidential hopeful, just added to the sense of drama.  
“These little School Board races used to be little School Board races. With the governor getting involved, it’s really escalated,” said Tanya Hardaker, who is challenging Joyce.
There are still campaigns to be run, however, and voters to be convinced one at a time.
“It’s really important to meet people where they are. I go to them,” said District 2 incumbent candidate Elizabeth Andersen, who ran four years ago focused on student mental health and last year chaired the board as it handled issues including pandemic mask rules and renaming six schools that originally commemorated Confederate leaders.
A former English teacher who became a licensed mental health counselor, the 39-year-old Jacksonville native said she’s been involved in a huge number of Duval County’s schools as either a student, school employee, counselor or volunteer.
Noting her son is about to enter kindergarten in Duval County, Andersen said board members have to prioritize children’s education and well-being regardless of partisan goals.
Where the governor’s support boosted Carney — his tweeted endorsement said “we need strong local school board members who are committed to advancing our agenda to put students first and protect parents’ rights” — Andersen said board members should stay separate from political platforms.
“We want people who are going to be working together for the good of our students, that put kids first and not Washington-style party politics,” Andersen said during a Jacksonville Public Education Fund forum.
Noting that board candidates are barred from using party labels, Carney said she’s “definitely the conservative candidate,” which wouldn’t surprise voters who’d seen her interviewed on Fox & Friends First and right-wing strategist Steve Bannon’s War Room podcast.
“As far as partisanship, I can tell you that most people wish it was a partisan race,” said Carney, 47, an interior designer who said she saw masking policies creating problems that damaged one of her daughters’ interest in school.
“A year ago, I went downtown and just voiced my [concern]. … I felt like I wasn’t really being heard,” she said.
The Moms for Liberty supporter has been a candidate since October 2021, billing herself on a campaign website as a “common sense conservative who believes in a robust education that focuses on literacy and math, not activism and agendas.”
DeSantis to conservative Moms for Liberty: ‘You gotta stand up, and you gotta fight.’
Moms for Liberty: How an army of education activists has become a national political force
The race in District 2, which reaches roughly from Mayport to Butler Boulevard and from the ocean to parts of Kernan Boulevard, has drawn endorsements for both candidates from Beaches political circles. Andersen’s supporters include the Jacksonville firefighters union, the Northeast Florida Association of Realtors, Duval Teachers United and Equality Florida while Carney boasts endorsements by voices including two members of Congress, Jacksonville’s police union, Moms for Liberty and First Coast Catholics.
The supporting casts are smaller in District 6, which arcs from Riverside-Avondale through most of the Westside to Baldwin and the Baker County line.
But without the political noise, the candidates are still pushing their campaigns intently.
“I want our schools to be something that Duval County is very proud of,” said Hardaker, 45, an accountant who left paying jobs to focus on raising her seven children. Her kids have attended neighborhood schools, magnets, online platforms and a public charter school, and Hardaker said the experience reinforced her belief in parental choice in education.
“I believe parents should have a variety of high-quality choices at their disposal, as parents know the needs of their children best,” she wrote on her campaign website. “I want the highest quality schools available for my children, as well as for every parent, in every zip code.”
Hardaker said she’d focus efforts as a school board member on improving student reading, safety and students’ social and mental health. She said she’d help her ensure tax money is used well and transparently.
Joyce, a former teacher and school magnet coordinator, has emphasized careful spending too, gradually building board support for an audit advisory committee that uses volunteer financial professionals to review facets of the school system’s $2 billion budget.
Joyce has also crossed volatile political ground in her first term, facing scores of critics and supporters when she sponsored a resolution applauding Florida’s Parental Rights in Education Act, widely discussed as the Don’t Say Gay law that took effect July 1.
Joyce said she supported the law because it ensured parents could be informed and involved in issues involving their children’s health and sexuality.
“Parents have a right to choose the direction for the education of their children,” said Joyce, 50, adding that shouldn’t be a partisan issue.
“I completely agree with the governor’s education platform,” she said.
Another School Board member, current Chairman Darryl Willie, retained his seat representing District 4 in this election cycle when he filed for a second term and faced no challengers.


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