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One conservative, one left-leaning candidate leading for two seats on Loudoun school board

Voters wait at the Ida Lee Park Recreation Center in Leesburg. (Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post)

A conservative candidate and a left-leaning candidate were leading in the race for two seats on the Loudoun County School Board after a tense, tight and partisan election that saw candidates of differing political ties espouse radically different sets of priorities for students and teachers in the district.

Late Tuesday night , early results showed Tiffany Polifko with a narrow lead over challengers for the seat representing Broad Run, while Erika Ogedegbe had a larger lead in the race for the Leesburg seat. Polifko, a 40-year-old behavior analyst who provides treatment for children with autism, promised during the campaign to boost parental rights in education, complained of sexually explicit texts in school libraries and received the endorsement of the Loudoun County Republican Committee.

Ogedegbe, a 52-year-old chief data architect at American University, vowed to improve Loudoun’s early literacy teaching, its staff recruitment and retention, and its communication with families. Ogedegbe received the endorsement of the Loudoun County Democratic Committee.

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Neither Polifko nor Ogedegbe responded to a request for comment late Tuesday.

If those two candidates go on to win the election, the board of nine will remain roughly balanced ideologically between conservatives and left-leaning members. Although school board races are supposed to be nonpartisan, the two races this year each boasted a clear Republican, Democratic and independent competitor because of candidates’ statements or party endorsements.

The Republican candidates — Polifko in Broad Run and Michael Rivera in Leesburg — largely campaigned for parents’ rights and school safety. The Democrats, Nick Gothard in Broad Run and Ogedegbe in Leesburg, said they would improve literacy education and staff recruitment. The independent candidates, including incumbent Andrew Hoyler in Broad Run and Lauren Shernoff in Leesburg, vowed to close achievement gaps in education, better meet the needs of special-education students and increase communication with parents.

Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R) was a presence in the race, with the Republican candidates notably echoing his gubernatorial campaign promises that he would give parents more control over their children’s education.

Youngkin has also targeted Loudoun recently, criticizing the school system for how it handled a high-profile pair of student sexual assaults. Loudoun officials transferred a student who had committed one sexual assault last year to another high school, where the student committed a second assault — earning school officials the ire of parents and politicians alike. The district has also figured prominently in fierce national debates raging since 2020 over how teachers should approach instruction on race, racism, U.S. history, gender identity and sexuality, leading some to dub it the face of the education culture wars.

Loudoun school board race could have national impact for GOP

Early Tuesday morning, voters braved a chilly wind to cast ballots at John W. Tolbert Jr. Elementary School. Many said they have been paying close attention to the school board race, even if they no longer have direct ties to the district.

Ken Bucher, a 60-year-old accountant, said he cast his vote for Shernoff. Bucher, a Republican, no longer has children in the school system. Still, he is worried that Loudoun — like other districts and states he has read about — will begin censoring what teachers say about history and race to prevent some students from feeling hurt. Bucher thinks the nation’s full history must be shared with all students, and he feels confident that Shernoff takes the same view.

“Besides, I’ve got several neighbors who said she’s the better candidate,” Bucher said. “I trust them.”

Lauren Thompson, a 32-year-old Leesburg resident who works in communications, cast her ballot for Ogedegbe. Thompson, who identifies as a Democrat, liked that Ogedegbe received the endorsement of the Loudoun County Democratic Party. Thompson said she thinks that, if elected, Ogedegbe will listen to the concerns of both parents and teachers.

And, Thompson said, she thinks Ogedegbe will work to protect transgender students, who recently saw a severe restriction of their rights at school under a policy debuted by Youngkin that bars transgender students from accessing school facilities and programs that match their gender identities and promotes parental involvement in discussions of gender identification.

“I worry that these kids will be outed to families,” said Thompson, reaching to smooth the hair of her 3½-year-old daughter, Ruthie. Ruthie, wearing a pink dress and gray tights patterned with small unicorns, clutched her mother’s leg with one hand and held a “Future Voter” sticker in the other.

At a polling station tucked into Oak Grove Baptist Church in the Broad Run district, Joel Cruz, a 38-year-old data center technician, cast his ballot in the school board race almost at random. Cruz, who generally identifies as a Democrat, said he picked Polifko simply because he recognized her name. He did not know she was endorsed by the Republican Party in Loudoun County.

“I don’t know much about the race, to be honest,” said Cruz, who does not have children enrolled in the school system. Whoever wins, he said, he has one major request: “Just don’t ban any books, please.”

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Georgia runoff election: Sen. Raphael G. Warnock (D) won re-election in the Georgia Senate runoff, defeating Republican challenger Herschel Walker and giving Democrats a 51st seat in the Senate for the 118th Congress. Get live updates here and runoff results by county.

Divided government: Republicans narrowly won back control of the House, while Democrats will keep control of the Senate, creating a split Congress.

What the results mean for 2024: A Republican Party red wave seems to be a ripple after Republicans fell short in the Senate and narrowly won control in the House. Donald Trump announced his 2024 presidential campaign shortly after the midterms. Here are the top 10 2024 presidential candidates for the Republicans and Democrats.