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  • Districts for Democracy Politics and polarization fire up N.J. school board races

By Tina Kelley and Riley Yates, November 7, 2022

The two crowds gathered late last month on opposite sides of Leigh Street in Clinton, a usually quiet downtown in Hunterdon County.

On the east side, in a local bakery, three school board candidates for the North Hunterdon-Voorhees Regional High School District took questions from about two dozen residents who bristled over library books and the state’s new sex education standards.

On the west side, a similarly sized group protested against those candidates’ recent failed attempts to remove five books with LGBTQ themes from high school libraries.

Though only a road separated them, the groups could not have been farther apart. They encapsulate the polarization seen in many New Jersey school board elections this fall, where culture wars have dominated debates, fueled by national politics and the country’s increasing partisan divide.

“It’s become a very loud, dangerous, disrespectful territory for a lot of school board members,” said Chris Cerf, former state education commissioner under Gov. Chris Christie. “There’s a shroud of fear that hangs over a lot of school board elections that did not before, and much more polarization and politicization now, all across the country.”

According to the New Jersey School Boards Association, 533 districts have elections on Tuesday, with 1,569 open seats and 2,151 candidates.

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