It’s tempting to think of the 2022 Volusia County School Board races as a referendum on the political fracas that emerged in school boards across the country during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Volusia County School Board, like others, became an unlikely battleground for freedom, as the board wrestled with mask mandates, little guidance from state government, and unprecedented virtual schooling.
Already this year, several high-profile endorsements from local and state Republican leaders have firmly inserted partisan politics into Volusia County’s nonpartisan School Board races, targeting board members who voted for mask mandates, and uplifting those who expressed misgivings, or voted against the mandates.
Other hot topics of the current culture war that have embroiled local school districts, and elections, include school curriculums that mention LGBTQ+ rights, gender and sexuality, critical race theory, race, and discrimination.
Moms for Liberty, a grassroots organization that sprang up in response to what they viewed as attempts to erode parental rights in schools, has also emerged as a prominent political voice in the School Board races, holding candidate forums and announcing endorsements for “liberty-minded leaders.”
“I never paid much attention before,” one member of the Volusia County chapter told The Beacon.
In District 5, which covers all of Deltona and the eastern side of Orange City, Gov. Ron DeSantis has taken the unusual step of endorsing Fred Lowry, the current Volusia County Council representative for District 5, which covers Deltona and much of DeBary.
(The County Council districts differ from the school districts.)
DeSantis labeled Lowry a “pro-parent candidate”.
Lowry is facing incumbent School Board Member Ruben Colón, a respiratory therapist at AdventHealth who often spoke of his work experience when discussing school mask mandates.
Lowry is a registered Republican, while Colón is a registered Democrat.
Lowry, a pastor, is perhaps most widely known for a fiery conspiracy-laced sermon in May 2021 that posited that COVID-19 was a fabrication and that liberal Hollywood elites were involved in a sex-trafficking scheme to produce a miracle drug from the blood of kidnapped children.
Lowry, according to his election profile, has 16 years of experience in schools, as a teacher and a principal in the 1970s and ’80s. So far, however, he has declined to appear at any candidate forums, including, notably, a June forum hosted by Moms for Liberty. He also wouldn’t talk to The Beacon for this story.
“I’m not interested. Thank you,” Lowry wrote in response to an interview request.
Moms for Liberty declined to endorse Lowry, writing in a June 29 email announcement that “we have expectations that Mr. Lowry, if elected, will be present and engaged, respectful to constituents, and act in accordance to his self-proclaimed platform and conservative values. Even though Mr. Lowry has been endorsed by Governor DeSantis, Moms for Liberty Volusia will NOT be endorsing him.”
The Republican Executive Committee of Volusia County has supported Lowry, writing that “He is the only Republican running in this race and has full RECVC support,” in a recent announcement.
For his part, Colón’s many talking points highlight increased graduation rates, expansion of vocational programs, and school safety, particularly in response to the pandemic.
“Despite the challenges, we successfully opened schools, ensuring that there were educational options for all families,” Colón said in an interview with The Beacon.
Colón also highlighted the difficult position school boards were placed in, with guidance that told them to follow the recommendations of their local health departments.
“I am proud to say that in Volusia County, we did what the governor asked us to do,” Colón said of mask requirements, which he consistently voted for.
In the weeks leading up to DeSantis’ endorsement of Lowry, Colón posted on social media a series of somewhat cheekily named “Endorsements That Matter,” highlighting local residents, parents, teachers and community members who have endorsed him.
“Education is not about Republican, Democrat, Libertarian or nonpartisan. It’s about right and wrong,” Colón said. “And I think that we’ve done the right things for students in District 5 in order to ensure that they are successful when they walk across our stage and leave our doors.”
Moms for Liberty found positive things to say about Colón.
“We have seen incumbent Mr. Ruben Colón is in alignment with most of our values and he has an excellent rapport with constituents,” Moms for Liberty wrote. “We hope if he were elected he would become fully aligned with parental rights.”
As of July 4, Colón had raised $30,844 (including $22,100 in loans from himself) and had spent $10,869. Other than the loans, his contributions are in small amounts from individuals.