Incumbent Hall County School Board Post 2 Member Mark Pettitt (R) will face competition in this year's general election from challenger Isabel Martinez Flynn (D) on Tuesday.
Pettitt was elected to the board in 2018 for the post representing the south end of the county. The post is elected by an at-large vote.
Pettitt is a Hall County native who lives in Chestnut Mountain and has previously served on the county's library board from 2011 to 2019. He said he has enjoyed the campaign process this year.
"My goal is to be accessible to constituents and the public and be active within the community, so I feel like I'm always campaigning and listening to folks and engaging with the community and things of that nature," Pettitt said.
Flynn has lived in Hall County since 1998 and currently lives in Flowery Branch. She has a business background before she began to work as a self-employed legal interpreter. She said she was inspired to run for a school board post during her work with cases involving impovrished youth in the area.
"In my opinion, everybody must have the equal opportunity to a good education. I think the only way to come out of poverty is a good solid education," Flynn said. "I was motivated when I heard an interview one day on my way to work with a retired teacher who had decided to run and I thought to myself, if she's doing it why should I not. Of course, I had already been interested in education."
One issue that has recently faced the county school board is reading materials for children. A group of parents expressed concerns to the board in April about some materials that contained what they considered to be inappropriate content.
Pettitt said said he is comfortable with the school system's ability to address those concerns.
"We have a policy on the books in Hall County that's been there for decades. If anybody at any time has any issue at all with any material in Hall County schools, they can issue a challenge. A committee will be convened, the content will be reviewed in its entirety for context and a decision will be made. If the individual is not happy with that committee's decision, they can appeal it to the district level and if the same thing happens there and the individual is still not happy, they can appeal it to the board of education," Pettitt said. "The process has been used once in eight years, so I would say we don't have an issue here."
Flynn said she is against banning reading materials.
"I think that, unfortunately, grown-ups don't read enough. I think that banning books from the libraries in schools will just lead to pure ignorance. The more you know, the more knowledge you have. The more power you will have to exercise in making good decisions," Flynn said.
When asked about the issue of school safety, Flynn said that she believes more should be done to protect students.
"I think that it is a community effort. I think we all have to be involved in one way or another. Thank God we haven't seen these types of situations in Hall County and hopefully we will continue to have that and never have to face anything like that," Flynn said. "As a pacifist, I believe in peace, but of course safety is of utmost importance. I believe we need to have more safety in the schools."
Pettitt said he believes the county has been ahead of the curve when it comes to protecting campuses.
"I feel that Hall County has led the way on school safety initiatives," Pettitt said. "With the tragic situation in Uvalde (Texas) in May, our neighbors down in Gwinnett County said that they would implement checkpoints at the front office and that they would also install security lobbies at the office of each school. I'm proud to say Hall County has been doing that for a number of years. I don't know that there's ever enough you can do in this day and age where there is so much evil around us to protect our students and our staff, but I feel that we do good things."
If re-elected, Pettitt said he is looking to continue to improve facilities around the county.
"We have a lot left to be done. The average age of a Hall County school building is between 35 and 40 years old. We have, probably, some of the oldest schools in the state. It's my goal to be more aggressive with our 10-year facility plan that the voters approved by nearly a two-thirds margin," Pettitt said. "With inflation the last two years, we're seeing budget constraints. Our money is not going as far today as we expected it to three years ago."
Flynn said that, as a hispanic woman, she could provide some representation that she believes is needed on the school board.
"A while back, I saw that the hispanic community was growing, but after I started working as a legal assistant to an attorney, I was working mostly from Atlanta, I didn't keep up with the growth in Hall County. When I went knocking on doors, I met this retired teacher and she mentioned that the latest statistics that she could see were that the hispanic community in a particular area has grown to probably 75 percent. When you look at the board, nobody looks like them," Flynn. "When I offer my experience as an interpreter, I always emphasize that I have cultural awareness. I completely understand the culture because I grew up in that culture."
Post 2 is one of three Hall County School Board races on Tuesday's ballot.