IN VIRGINIA, school board positions are officially nonpartisan. That’s a fiction this year in Fairfax County, where a vitriolic, ugly debate has clouded the contests. Given how critical the schools are to the county’s future, voters need to sift through the noise to find the best candidates to deal with the complexities of Virginia’s largest school district.

The Nov. 5 election will see unusual turnover, with six of 11 incumbents not seeking reelection. Lee District representative Tamara Derenak Kaufax is unopposed, but there are fierce contests for three at-large seats and eight district seats. The Democratic and Republican parties each endorsed a slate, which is not unusual. What is out of the norm is the poisonous tone that, by and large, has been set by the Republican-backed candidates.

They seem to have taken a page from President Trump’s playbook of trafficking in fear, misinformation and demonization. “Take back our schools” is their theme in a campaign that distorts the reality of Fairfax schools and the work of the current board. The 190,000-student system faces challenges — including retaining teachers, narrowing the achievement gap and modernizing overcrowded facilities — but the high-performing system is among the country’s best. Contrary to GOP claims, no one is proposing lowered standards or massive, cross-county busing. Attacking the board for renaming J.E.B. Stuart High School to Justice High, updating the sexual health curriculum to include lessons about transgender issues and seeking to promote equity is wedge politics at its worst.

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Here are our endorsements for these important races:

At-large: Karen Keys-Gamarra , the only at-large incumbent running, deserves reelection. She is a true leader, promoting needed reforms in discipline policies and access to advanced academics. Rachna Sizemore Heizer is an attorney, college professor and disability justice advocate with a knack for finding creative solutions to difficult problems. Abrar Omeish , a 2013 graduate of Fairfax schools now studying public policy at Georgetown University, has keen insights into student needs and ways to increase inclusiveness.

Megan McLaughlin has represented the Braddock District for eight years and deserves another four-year term. Smart and principled, she has a data-driven approach that helped realize later high school start times and smaller class sizes.

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The retirement of Dranesville Board member Jane Strauss after 25 years leaves a void on the board that Elaine Tholen , a career educator and longtime Fairfax resident, is best equipped to fill.

In Hunter Mill, Melanie Meren once worked for the Education Department and understands policy, but also brings the perspective of a parent with young children in the schools.

Ricardy Anderson is the clear choice in Mason District. She has 23 years of experience as a teacher, principal and central office administrator, and is focused on equitable opportunity for all students.

Mount Vernon District incumbent Karen Corbett Sanders , current board chair, is smart and diligent, expert on the budget and adept at collaborating.

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In Providence, Karl Frisch promises to use his skills as public policy advocate and communicator to address overcrowded classes and access to advanced academic programs.

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In Springfield, either candidate challenging the strident and ineffective incumbent Elizabeth Schultz would be an improvement. We favor Kyle McDaniel , a former aide to Springfield Supervisor Pat Herrity (R) who is running as an independent after he quit the GOP over disgust with the president. Mr. McDaniel would be an independent voice, and his work for Mr. Herrity gave him a command of school issues.

In Sully, challenger Stella Pekarsky , a former teacher and parent of six public school students, would provide more energetic representation than incumbent Thomas Wilson.

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