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Two educators vie for seat on Coeur d’Alene school district with differing views on mask mandates, spending

No matter what, someone new will sit on Coeur d’Alene’s school board after this election, with two educators vying for a position after incumbent Jennifer Brumley announced she would not run.

School psychologist Lindsey Swingrover will face former elementary school teacher Lesli Bjerke in the upcoming Coeur d’Alene School District election.

Swingrover has spent over a decade as a school psychologist in the Coeur d’Alene school district and decided to run after she saw how the pandemic affected everyone – parents, students and educators.

“Last year was definitely the hardest year of my career for sure, with all of the drama with COVID, not just in schools, but the chaos and division in the community,” Swingrover said. “I started to think this is the time for someone with a mental health background to be on the school board.”

Bjerke retired in 2016 after 25 years as an elementary school teacher in Southern California, according to Bjerke’s campaign website. Bjerke did not respond to interview requests in time for publication.

Bjerke has a master’s in education administration, according to a Q&A on the Kootenai County GOP website, and has also served on a district curriculum committee.

The divide in the community stemmed from school board meeting attendants feeling unheard, Bjerke told the Coeur d’Alene Press earlier this month. Bjerke was referring to a canceled Coeur d’Alene school board meeting Sept. 24 where protesters showed up to voice frustrations over mask mandates in schools, which was supposed to be up for a vote that night.

Bjerke posted on her Facebook page Oct. 15 she would not support mask requirements in schools. She did not specify on her social media about whether she would support a vaccine mandate.

Bjerke was quoted as saying that COVID-19 vaccines were “rushed out without following strict protocols” and that citizens are “losing their health freedom” on the Kootenai County GOP candidate page.

The vaccines for COVID-19 underwent several clinical trials involving tens of thousands of participants and three have been approved, produced by Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the World Health Organization and the Federal Drug Administration have said the approved vaccines in the U.S. are all safe, effective and reduce the risk of hospitalization or death due to COVID-19.

Bjerke identified as fiscally conservative on the Kootenai County GOP candidate page. She also advocated for transparency between the board and the community, emphasis on a “classical education” and keeping critical race theory from being taught in public schools, according to a flyer she posted on her Facebook page.

“We need to get back to educating, rather than indoctrinating,” Bjerke wrote on her own campaign website.

Swingrover agreed with Bjerke that critical race theory, an “advanced grad school-level theory,” she said, should not be taught to children. However, she said Bjerke was addressing a problem that was not locally relevant.

“There aren’t any mandates on the table, and CRT isn’t being taught,” Swingrover said.

One of Swingrover’s priorities is expanding access to mental health resources in schools, with more counselors and services especially for suicide prevention. She said she wanted to continue supporting school levies, which pays for 25% of the district’s operating budget. Most of that budget goes toward paying the district’s staff.

Without levies, Swingrover said, valuable education programs throughout the district would face cuts.

“I think of what that means if you’re cutting a district’s budget again by 25%. In any given building that means we’re getting rid of art, we’re getting rid of P.E., we’re getting rid of music,” Swingrover said. “Those are expensive programs.”

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