WALLINGFORD — Board of Education candidates won’t be answering questions during next week’s candidates forum, hosted by Wallingford Community Women, and instead will have the opportunity to read personal statements.
The long-standing event features round-robin discussions for Town Council and school board candidates, and a debate format for mayoral candidates.
Representatives from the Record-Journal and the New Haven Register, along with students from Sheehan and Lyman Hall high schools, are invited to prepare questions for the candidates to answer.
The forums, held over two nights, are recorded and broadcast on Wallingford Government Television and archived on YouTube.
The events were open to the public prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, although public participation was not allowed. During the 2020 forum, no audience was present.
Jeanne McFarland, Wallingford Community Women forum organizer, said that she originally planned for Board of Education candidates to participate in a round-robin discussion with candidates answering questions individually.
Candidates always have had the option of sending in a statement, and some have taken advantage when work or other commitments prevented them from participating in person.
There are seven newcomer school board candidates in addition to the three Democratic and two Republican incumbents.
McFarland said she would give each candidate four minutes maximum to make a statement.
The change in format came about after discussions between McFarland and Tammy Raccio, the Republican vice chairperson of the school board who had been in contact with Democratic board members and candidates.
Raccio said Thursday that she and McFarland discussed how the candidates would be seated in council chambers, and whether spreading out the candidates would lead to some people being hard to see or hear on camera, and whether that created inequities.
She said that making statements would “allow us to focus on the educational issues, as opposed to how many people are at this table versus that table, who sits at the extra table.”
She added that the group had concerns about possible distractions from the educational issues if board members were observing the state executive order on mask wearing and distancing in a Board of Education forum and the Town Council and mayoral forums were not.
“We want to make sure that board leadership and candidates are following the same expectations for teachers and students, per the executive order,” she said.
Raccio said that the effect on public discourse of reading a statement rather than answering a question live would be negligible if candidates stick to relevant educational issues.
“In the past, the questions that were asked of us were relevant educational questions,” she said, “and I think that any candidate who’s writing a statement is going to stick to relevant issues.”
This year’s Board of Education forum is scheduled for Wednesday, Oct. 20, and will not be open to the public. The forum for the Town Council and mayoral candidates is scheduled for Thursday, Oct. 21, at Wallingford Town Hall in Robert F. Parisi Council Chambers. It is open to the public, but a time has not been announced.