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Orchard Park students endorse candidates amid heated school board race

The topic of book bans and gender identity have been among the key issues in this year’s election and prompted a student group to make a rare endorsement.

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. — For the past six months, Orchard Park sophomore Luke Lippitt has been asking his classmates to contemplate a series of questions.

“What do you want to see in a school board member? And what do you want to see in the school and the administration? How do they want to listen to us?” Lippitt said.

With the school board election set to take place Tuesday and residents poised to cast their votes to fill three open seats, some students are making their voices heard and taking rare action in endorsing candidates.

Lippitt is the co-founder of Students Protecting Education, a non-profit that promotes and advocates for equitable learning and change in the community on the values of diversity, equity, and inclusion.  

The group decided to endorse three of the six candidates running — the incumbent Jennifer Rogers, Ed Draves, and Steve Comeau.

“We sat down, and we really thought what candidates support us? What candidates support the values that we see important as students?” Lippitt said.

The action began at a school board meeting in October when Lippitt spoke out against the proposed banning of certain books and pushback on the district’s new gender identity policy that allows students to use the name, pronouns, and restroom that they identify with. 

Lippitt and Students Protecting Education believe three of the candidates — Steve Barlette, Katherine Ibarra, and Bobby Wellington — were among those that supported book bans and opposed the new policy.

“The three candidates that we didn't endorse have not shown that they support those values,” he said.

Barlette told 2 On Your Side in a statement that he and the other two candidates did not ask for a book ban and that “students may have misinterpreted our comments to be against the LGBTQ community. That couldn’t be further from the truth.”

Adding: “We had questions about graphical sexual pictures in a book, which happened to be of homosexual sex nature. However, we would have had the same questions if it was of a heterosexual sex nature. We have plenty of vocal student support and we commend all of the Orchard Park students for standing up for what they believe in.”

Voting begins tomorrow at 7 a.m. and will continue until 9 p.m.


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