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New candidate jumps in state school board race to challenge unopposed contender

By Carlene Coombs - | Jun 21, 2024

Courtesy Jason Allen

Jason Allen is an unaffiliated candidate for Utah State Board of Education District 12.

In the Utah State Board of Education District 12 race, an unaffiliated candidate, Jason Allen, has file to run this month, pitting himself against Cole Kelley, who has been unopposed until now.

Kelley ousted incumbent school board member James Moss at the state GOP Convention in April by winning the party nomination, and no other party-affiliated candidates had filed to run for the race.

Allen said he’s joining the race to “restore civility” in the state school board and pointed to Kelley’s support from Natalie Cline, a current school board member who has courted controversy on multiple occasions, as a reason for jumping in the race now.

Cline has expressed support for Kelley’s campaign on social media, and also backs two other school board candidates in Utah County, Monica Wilbur and Cari Bartholomew.

Cline lost her reelection bid at the Salt Lake County GOP Convention after she came under fire this year for posting a photo of a teenage athlete and falsely implying the athlete was transgender, leading to a slew of online attacks against the girl.

Courtesy Cole Kelley

Cole Kelley is a Republican candidate for Utah State Board of Education District 12.

The school board district contains Orem, Vineyard and Lindon plus parts of Utah County east of Pleasant Grove and Cedar Hills.

“These seats on this board can be used for political agendas, and I really feel that that is not appropriate for the school board,” Allen said, adding he wants to give voters “another choice.”

Kelley said he chose to run for the state school board to “build back trust” between the school system and parents, specifically between teachers and parents.

“I think that it’s incumbent upon the education system to build the trust of the parents back, and then also for teachers to recognize that parents are simply trying to do what’s best for their kids,” he said.

Kelley has been a teacher for 27 years, beginning as an English instructor and before teaching financial literacy for the last 17 years.

Despite running as politically unaffiliated, Allen describes himself as a “lifelong Republican” and said he has been a county GOP delegate twice.

“I share many of the conservative values that the majority of the voters in my district hold,” he said. “I have a lot in common with most of the voters, and I simply want to be able to get the word out to the best of my ability that there is an additional option.”

Allen said he has been a park ranger for 19 years, which has given him a love for public service, and he will be attending Utah Valley University this fall to get certified as a public school teacher. He currently has a history degree and a master’s in public administration.

Kelley said one of his goals would be to focus on students’ curriculum as a measure of success rather than focusing on graduation rates.

“A lot of what is happening is that we’re pushing kids through the system without really a lot of concern about what they’re learning as they move through the system,” he said. Kelley added he wants to focus on learning levels and individual progress in a student’s education as the measure for success.

Both candidates agree with the state’s Legislature vote Wednesday to ignore recent changes to Title IX rules from the administration of President Joe Biden that would extend student protections to include gender identity and sexual orientation.

Those federal changes are at odds with recent Utah legislation, namely restrictions on bathroom access in government-owned buildings and sports participation for transgender athletes.

Allen said he respects transgender people but said he believes allowing transgender girls to play in girls’ sports is “unfair.”

“There are certain solutions that could be created with enough time and understanding because we don’t want to deny them (transgender students) the ability to participate in sports. … But to compete one-on-one against females when they were born male, I feel, is unfair,” he said.

Kelley shared a similar belief, adding that while current state law bars transgender students from participating in sports that align with their gender identity, there are some exceptions he disagrees with.

“I think biological girls should be competing against biological girls,” he said. “And if there’s a biological boy that wants to compete against the girls, I don’t think that there should be exceptions made.”

Allen said he recognizes being an unaffiliated candidate is an uphill climb, but it is “worth the fight” to provide voters with another option.

“I can show them (voters) that I’m an open-minded person who wants to include everyone and truly has the best interest of the students and of the schools and of the teachers in mind to help come together and create the best opportunities that we can,” he said.

Kelley said he doesn’t take having an opponent “lightly,” and it’s made him campaign among voters more, something he enjoys.

He said he’s seen that Allen has received support from Stronger Orem, a political action committee in Orem that has endorsed successful Orem City Council candidates and opposed Proposition 2 to create an Orem-only school district, saying he doesn’t underestimate the group’s influence.

“This just lights a little more of a fire underneath me to make sure that I get out and I talk to families and make sure that I talk to the constituents and make sure that I hear their concerns,” Kelley said.

Because Kelley has already received the Republican nomination and Allen is running unaffiliated, they won’t be on the ballot during this month’s primary elections. Both candidates will be on the ballot in the November general election.

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