As the year winds down, we are slowly creeping in on the 2022 elections. This includes the spring elections – when voters select their leaders for local offices.
For the Madison Metropolitan School District Board of Education, it also means at least one new member will be joining them, as current board member Cris Carusi announced she will not be running for re-election last Thursday.
Now, there are two names in the running for this seat: Mary Jo Walters and Shepherd Janeway.
Walters has a history running for public office. In 2012, she ran as an independent write-in for governor, in 2014 as Lieutenant Governor, and in 2018 for a seat in the U.S. Senate. She did not win any of those races.
After several of her social media posts about trans issues heated up online this weekend, Walters held a press conference today near Atwood Avenue behind Revolution Cycles. She mentioned the education budget cuts from 2011, when former Wisconsin governor Scott Walker decreased the level of funding for public schools.
Walters, mother of three Madison students, says she has been eager to help the public school system ever since then.
“From that point on, I was engaged in so many different causes that it is easy for me to take on what needs to be done with the schools right now. And that is, looking at the current policies, including the safety policies, and I think that we need to invite parents in that process. And I am a parent,” says Walters.
The safety policies Walters references include the MMSD policy allowing transgender students to use the gendered bathroom that they identify with.
Walters has been openly critical about that policy, saying this puts the student body at risk of danger.
“I really didn’t want to bring up the bathroom issue as a safety issue, but as conversations kept evolving around safety policies and the school board, I realized that somebody has to talk about the bathroom language and the girls’ safety,” Walters states.
A study from the Williams Institute at UCLA School of Law found zero evidence for a link between trans-inclusive bathroom policies and any increase in safety risks. The claim has, however, been used in some states and municipalities to limit bathroom use by transgender people.
Walters also says she plans to limit military recruitment within the schools, revise safety measures involving COVID, as well as implement a curriculum focused on life-survival skills.
Walters, who decided to run for office during the summer, was unchallenged – until yesterday.
Now, Shepherd Janeway, who previously went by the name Andi, has entered the race.
Janeway, who uses they/them pronouns and is a member of the transgender community, has been involved with LGBTQ events and other activist groups. This will be Janeway’s first time running for elected office. For legal and regulatory reasons, they will appear on the ballot as Shepherd Joyner.
Janeway says they were motivated to run after discovering comments Walters made online targeting the transgender community – including a comment by Walters that she was “trans-o-phobic.”
“I was made aware on Facebook and other forms of social media that there’s someone who was running for a particular seat on the school board who was running unopposed, and who held some particularly harmful views that I know from first-hand experience would have negatively impacted the kids that I work for and the kids that I work with… I guess this is the kick in the pants that I need to really step up for my community,” says Janeway.
Janeway has recently worked as an instructor at Whoopensocker, a Madison-based youth education program that focuses on teaching the arts to low-income students.
They say their goal on the school board includes supporting discriminated youth.
“My focus will be on ensuring that the policy decisions that we make have the maximum positive impact for the kids across the board, not just necessarily in regards to protecting trans students, but as well as protecting and ensuring that students who are marginalized and are disenfranchised have ways to bridge those gaps within our school,” they state.
Along with success for students, Janeway states they will be focusing on maintaining and improving the relationship between the school board and the teachers union.
In order to be on the ballot, candidates will need to provide completed candidacy papers and 100 signatures from supporters by January 4th. The spring election is Tuesday, April 5th.
Both candidates say they are excited for this election and are grounded by the effort of the community around them that offers support.
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to include the fact that for legal and regulatory reasons concerning surnames on ballots, Shepherd Janeway will appear as Shepherd Joyner on the ballot.