This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2016, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Gary Thompson, a Common Core foe running for state school board, sat out a Wednesday evening debate in Draper to protest its format.
The one-minute-or-less response time allowed in recent debates in other Utah districts lent itself more to sound bites than productive dialogue, said the candidate vying to represent the southeastern corner of Salt Lake County on the State Board of Education.
"It worked well for Donald Trump. But I'm not Trump," said Thompson. "I was thinking, if I'm a parent here, I didn't get a sense of the depth of candidates' positions."
Despite his distancing from the presumptive GOP presidential nominee, Thompson joined conservatives in vehemently opposing Common Core.
Thompson said at a recent education rally that he believes the national grade-level benchmarks in math and English put students at risk for suicide. But he walked back that statement Wednesday, clarifying that he thinks "excessive testing has had a detrimental effect on many young people's mental health," with potential to spike anxiety, depression and low self-esteem.
His fellow District 10 candidates software engineer and incumbent board Chairman David Crandall, and Granite School District teacher Kathleen Riebe believe the national standards Utah adopted in 2010 are valuable, even if they are imperfect.
"We need to reach out and redevelop the standards for Utahns," Crandall said Wednesday evening before the debate. "Let's get past the controversy."
Riebe said she believes the guidelines approved by national education experts provide "continuity and stability." She seeks to better understand the viewpoints of critics and proponents, she added, and she believes the benchmarks can be modified to meet Utah's needs.
After the debate, Riebe noted Thompson's absence.
"It's unfortunate that Gary Thompson didn't show up," she said. "Dave Crandall and I showed up to promote dialogue and engage with our constituents."
Before Wednesday's discussion, various groups including the state board were allowed to submit questions. It's a conflict of interest, Thompson said, for Crandall's colleagues to help craft the debate.
Royce Van Tassell, the executive director of the Utah Association of Public Charter Schools and co-host of the forums, disagreed. Only school board members who were not running, he said, were invited to contribute to the question pool.
Crandall wasn't aware of any board members who weighed in.
"My understanding is that no one on the state board submitted questions," he said.
The series of forums was hosted by Van Tassell's organization, along with the Sutherland Institute, the Hinckley Institute of Politics and KSL.
In May, when it came time for Thompson to RSVP, organizers still were hashing out the details of Wednesday's District 10 debate including who would moderate, the kinds of questions candidates would field and response times they would get. So Thompson declined, citing too many unknowns.
"It's unfortunate that he isn't able to participate," Van Tassell said, adding that the forums would help the public understand candidates' priorities and backgrounds. One other Utah candidate did not participate in a separate debate, Van Tassell said, due to a previously scheduled trip.
Many of the five previous debates took the form of Thompson's preferred town hall style in the second half-hour, Van Tassell said, when moderators allowed audience members to ask questions. It's up to moderators, he added, to determine how long candidates have to answer.
Thompson is the retired co-founder of Early Life Child Psychology Inc., a company based in South Jordan that evaluates students' mental health and tests for learning disabilities.
He and his District 10 rivals will square off in Utah's primary election Tuesday. The two with the most votes will advance to November's general election.
The final debate before the primary is scheduled for Thursday in Orem.