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Parents upset over upcoming MSCS partisan primary

This was made possible after Gov. Bill Lee signed a law allowing partisan elections for school board members back in 2021.

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Some are worrying about the upcoming elections in Tennessee’s largest school district.

Both Republican and Democratic parties are calling for Memphis Shelby County School Board members to take part in a partisan primary election.

This comes at a time when several school board discussions are making national headlines, including book bans and Florida’s Don’t Say Gay Bill.

In Memphis, several are now pushing back against the idea.

“It’s going to muck it up worse than it already is,” said Dianechia Fields with The Memphis Lift.

After having her own children go through MSCS, Fields is among the voices against a potential primary for school board candidates.

“People only vote to a party and not what the candidate can bring to the table,” said Fields, "The reason you are running for this seat is to improve the educational journey of our students."

“Especially around the issues around education right now with banning books and teaching so called critical race theory,” said Otis Sanford, Political Analyst, “We don’t need that to get wrapped up in some political dispute between republicans and democrats.”

This was all made possible after Governor Bill Lee signed it into law back in 2021. Over half of the MSCS board chairs are now up for re-election in March, and this has a lot of people concerned about what the fallout could be in Shelby County.

“The general public are not going to care about it, and what it does is it minimizes the chances of the majority of people having a say,” said Dr. Kenneth Whalum, Former School Board Chair.

Whalum worries the primaries could end up alienating the general public from taking part in school board elections. Now he is urging Memphians to speak to their city council leaders to stop any requirement of having a partisan primary, before it potentially impacts five out of nine MSCS chairs facing the vote in March, including Dr. Althea Greene.

“I don’t think that it’s always important the party. If the person is a democrat, if the person is a republican, we want the best person in the seat that is going to get the job done,” said Greene.

Unless both parties change their mind, the primaries will continue according to the Shelby County Election Commission. Even if one party changes their mind, the other party who did not will still have a primary.

When asked for a statement, The Shelby County Democratic Party said it supports the idea of primaries for municipal races in Memphis and gave the following statement:

"We believe primaries are essential to ensuring that Democratic candidates are properly vetted and represent the values of the Democratic party and the citizens that support those values."

Meanwhile, The Republican Party of Shelby County said it would not pursue a primary and said the following:

"We are giving our constituents and stakeholders the freedom to select the right leaders...our people desire the autonomy to make their own decisions...in the Suburban Areas and Municipalities they know WHO they want in the school board seats."

However, according to Linda Phillips with the election commission, neither party has notified them about any change to the primaries. If the commission is not notified by September 15th, both primaries will take place.

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