EPS District 5forum
Edmond Public Schools District 5 board candidates Marcus Jones, left, and Michael Grande, right, answer questions from Oklahoma Watch's Ted Streuli during a forum Monday, March 21, 2022. (Joe Tomlinson)

At a forum held in the John Ross Elementary School gym Monday night, candidates Marcus Jones and Michael Grande answered questions about their respective visions for Edmond Public Schools if elected to the school board’s District 5 seat.

Jones, who currently holds the seat, focused on his own experience attending public schools and the five months he has served on the board since he was appointed to fill a vacancy left by the resignation of board member Meredith Exline.

“I want my kids to experience the same type of education that I experienced,” Jones said.

Grande focused on his family’s connection to the district, as well his perceived shortcomings of the current Edmond School Board.

“My experience in all three modalities, having kids in all three grade levels of education, in all three different types of schools, I can see things from a different vantage point,” he said. “Maybe I have a different opinion or maybe I can see something that may work here or not work there, so I see that as an advantage for me.”

The forum was hosted by the Edmond Parent Legislative Action Committee and streamed on YouTube and embedded below.

For Election Day, polling places will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Tuesday, April 5. Early voting is also available from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Thursday, March 31 and Friday, April 1, at the Oklahoma County Election Board.

Grande: ‘We need to stand up for all the kids’

Throughout the 45-minute forum, Grande spoke to the audience about an ongoing lawsuit filed by parents against EPS in September, alleging that the district’s COVID-19 quarantine policies for unvaccinated people violated their children’s constitutional rights.

In December, an Oklahoma County district judge granted a temporary injunction preventing the district from enforcing its COVID-19 protocols for unvaccinated students. The district appealed the case to the Oklahoma Supreme Court in January.

Grande referred to the lawsuit during the forum, saying EPS was seeking to “discriminate against kids,” though he did not mention that the policies in question dealt with unvaccinated people.

“There is a lawsuit going that the district is pursuing in order to continue to discriminate against kids,” Grande said. “I will stand up for our kids.”

Grande also criticized the district for what he called a lack of transparency.

“Also something that we need to address, a lot of our decisions are made behind closed doors. This is a public position,” Grande said. “We need to be out in front having these conversations and holding our board members accountable and being transparent with the decision making process.”

Jones countered that the board’s processes are public and agendas are available days ahead of scheduled meetings.

“It would be great if more people read the agenda and then reached out to a board member ahead of time, because that is what is going to be [voted on]. The agenda is what we’re voting on for that day,” Jones said. “So that’s being more proactive versus reactive — whenever the board makes a decision, and you complain about whatever decision is made.”

Jones: Social-emotional learning ‘is essentially talking about life skills’

Moderator Ted Streuli, executive director of Oklahoma Watch, asked candidates about the use of social-emotional learning in EPS. Social-emotional learning encourages teachers to address students’ emotional and personal development, and a bill filed in the Oklahoma Legislature this year seeks to ban the approach.

“It is essentially talking about life skills, so self-management, self-awareness, responsible decision-making, and social awareness, AKA empathy, and we all need that in society today,” Jones responded. “Our children are growing up in a world that is increasingly challenging. We need to be more cognizant of the mental, social and emotional impacts, and have resources out there to help.”

Jones said his daughter practices breathing exercises when she gets upset, which she was taught through concepts of social-emotional learning.

“The learning environment works best when kids know how to regulate themselves and their emotions,” Jones said.

Grande said he did not believe the district needed to give “mass application” of social-emotional learning to all EPS students.

“If it’s a tool that a teacher can use, or a student that needs that type of application, I don’t want to take that tool away,” Grande said. “But, at the same time, do we need the mass application for everybody? Is it a one size fits all? Probably not.”

Grande then pivoted the question to something he called “transformational SEL.” (Transformative social-emotional learning is a specific implementation of SEL that includes the examination of sources of injustice and inequity in communities.)

“What we really need to look at and what really is concerning and part of this question on SEL is, are we talking about regular SEL that has been around since the 90s?” Grande asked. “Or are we talking about transformational SEL, or trans SEL, which is basically race-based, which brings in those elements of [critical race theory] in which we put laws into place to make sure we don’t bring those tenets into our schools?”

Vouchers ‘a moot point’ for Grande

The candidates also discussed Senate Bill 1647, a controversial measure which would create state-funded “empowerment accounts” to help families under a certain income threshold pay for a portion of private school tuition.

Jones stated his opposition to the bill.

“I’m running for Edmond Public Schools, so I’m not for taking funds from public education, no matter where it falls in the process,” Jones said. “Diverting funds from Edmond Public Schools would erode the standard of education that we have here.”

Grande called the topic a “moot point” for EPS.

“If we do our job, if we create the work environment, and we create the district and we match our academics to our facilities, and we have the output and have that reputation — the only reason why we would ever lose a kid in public education is because their needs are not being met,” Grande said. “I just don’t think it’s ever going to be an issue for us here in Edmond.”

‘He’s probably actually too nice, really’

During closing remarks, Jones spoke first.

“I don’t have an agenda here. I am a parent, not a politician, and I want everyone to know that,” Jones said. “This is something I feel strongly about, and I want to help Edmond Public Schools succeed and continue to succeed.”

He emphasized his personal investment in the future of Edmond’s schools.

“I grew up in this community,” he said. “I went K through 12 in this community, and this community is where I chose to stay and raise my family. I want Edmond to continue to be the best, and I want us to come together as a community and support Edmond Public Schools like I know it should.”

Grande opened his final remarks by talking about his opponent.

“I like Marcus. Marcus is a nice guy. He’s probably actually too nice, really. Every time I see him, he’s just the nicest guy. It’s great,” Grande said, as the crowd laughed and Jones stared at him blankly.

Grande reiterated his earlier promise, regarding the lawsuit, to “represent our kids and make sure they’re not being discriminated against.”

He then spoke about literature taught in the district’s curriculum, a topic that has been a hot-button issue in the other upcoming Edmond School Board election, for District 2.

“All I need to know is a little disclaimer below that description that says this book contains sexual content and explicit language,” Grande said. “That’s it. That’s all we need to know. That’s all we want as parents.”