Race for the State Board of Education: Incumbent & 2 conservative challengers face-off

Posted at 7:00 PM, May 04, 2022

OMAHA, Neb. (KMTV) — The Nebraska State Board of Education was put into the spotlight last year when they were asked to pass health and sex education standards.

Those standards polarized the state. Now one member, Deborah Neary is running for re-election with two conservative candidates running on taking sex education out of the early grades.

When incumbent Deborah Neary was elected four years ago, the meetings were sleepy affairs. That's not the case anymore.

The process of drafting health standards that included beginning to teach sex education in elementary school drew waves of fired-up Nebraskans to protest at the board.

Those standards are postponed and Neary says now they’re looking to pass math standards and are taking a meticulous approach.

“And we’re looking at the staff processes. We’re looking at the board processes. We’re looking at more ways to engage the public because we really want to keep doing better every time we release new standards,” said Neary.

Her two opponents believe she has lost the confidence of the voters. Marni Hodgen was out knocking on doors Wednesday and told 3 News Now she decided to run after the board voted to not permanently reject passing health standards earlier this year.

“At first, second and third grade we don’t need teachers talking to the children about all sorts of sexual things that are way over their heads,” said Hodgen.

The other person in the race, John Sieler, was on the board in the past and wants back on. He could not be reached Wednesday but told me in March he was motivated to run due to the health standards.

“They’re teaching gender things to first graders. Things they shouldn’t be learning about and that they're not pushing the academics. We need to be reading, writing and arithmetic,” said Sieler.

Hodgen says one thing that separates the two conservatives, in her opinion, is her involvement being one of the many parents continuously showing up to the State Board of Education meetings.

“I’m firm in my convictions. I have a backbone and I’m going to definitely stand up for what I believe in,” said Hodgen.

As for Neary, she says she’s grateful people are focusing on school boards in Nebraska. She says she’ll have real discussions, not wedge issues, on how students will succeed in Nebraska.

“I’m working to make sure every student in Nebraska reaches their full potential and so there isn’t room for political soundbites in that goal,” said Hodgen.

Another issue the Nebraska State Board of Education will be looking to correct is the teacher shortage that’s growing every day.

Both Hodgen and Neary mentioned to 3 News Now that they would be focused on addressing that issue.

While 3 News Now couldn't reach Sieler he says he'll advocate for teachers who are underpaid and overworked.

RELATED: Extremist groups linked to backlash over sex education standards in Nebraska

Download our apps today for all of our latest coverage.

Get the latest news and weather delivered straight to your inbox.