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Commentary Education Election

Opinion: My mother was an EPISD nurse who died of COVID-19. Honor her memory by voting in the school board election

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By Kaitlyn Urenda-Culpepper

Leslie Hoard is running to represent El Paso families on the El Paso Independent School District school board. Her views and behaviors do not befit anyone who should seek to hold public office in 2021, and her campaign is a warning about how our schools and government could be further damaged unless we remain vigilant to the dangers of conspiracy theories and anti-science views.

My mother, a person of faith and integrity, a person who defended life, all life, would still be working for EPISD had it not been for her losing her life to COVID-19. 

Kaitlyn Urenda-Culpepper and her mother, Genevieve Martinez. (Photo courtesy of Kaitlyn Urenda-Culpepper)

Her fear before she returned to work was that the reality of having unfit representation at her school and in our state would kill her. She was sadly correct. The lack of mask mandates and irresponsible leadership led to the unchecked spread of COVID in El Paso. If Hoard is elected, my mother’s predictions would once again become true.

Hoard is a member of a Facebook group called “Let School Bells Ring,” where she attacked masks and the science behind mask wearing. She called masks an “inconvenience” and thinks that instead of wearing them, sick kids should just stay home — ignoring the fact that many El Paso parents work full time, and don’t have the luxury of unpaid, unscheduled time off.

In other posts, Hoard states that children and staff who are vulnerable or have underlying conditions should be separated from those who are healthy and at a lower risk. This sounds extremely “separate but equal,” and would further root racism into our educational system. 

It is well known that  the prevalence of pre-existing conditions in El Paso is correlated to wealth and race. Not only would separating them send a dangerous and demeaning message that students — through no fault of their own — are lesser-than, such a plan would further segregate our schools by race and wealth.

What’s more, Hoard cheered on the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6. When the founder of “Let School Bells Ring” posted from the Capitol grounds that day, Hoard congratulated and thanked her for attempting to disrupt the operation of our democracy.

My mother, Genevieve Martinez, was a registered nurse for more than 40 years. The countless stories she told about students attending school because they were sick, and their parents could not stay home with them, stick with me to this day. Those children deserve a school board that understands their needs, respects science, and honors our democracy.

We must root out racism in our education system and it starts with elections like this one. Your vote matters. Even if you may not have children, your vote matters. 

Too often, we march, we organize, we tweet, and we show up for big elections — but not school board elections. But this is where the future of our city and state starts, and this is where we have to act. It begins with rejecting candidates like Hoard who show no grasp of the challenges our community faces, or the path to solving them.

Kaitlyn Urenda-Culpepper, 28, is an El Paso native, and graduate of Eastwood High School, who attended UTEP. She currently resides in Dallas with her husband David and daughter Adelaide.

Cover photo: Genevieve Martinez of El Paso died of COVID-19 in July 2020 at age 62. (Photo courtesy of Kaitlyn Urenda-Culpepper)

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