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Alva Striplin gets reelected to the Leon school board while District 4 goes to a November runoff

A man in a blue polo shirt holds a cell phone and glances into the camera
Lynn Hatter
Godby assistant principal Alex Stemle is heading to a November runoff with retired teacher Laurie Cox for a Leon school board seat.

Alva Striplin handily won her reelection bid to the Leon County School Board during Tuesday's primary. She defeated former Jefferson Superintendent Marianne Arbulu and progressive candidate Anthony DeMarco to retain the District 1 seat with 53.54% of the vote as of 1:50 a.m. Wednesday. Meanwhile, the District 4 race is heading for a November runoff.

Both races have been heavily influenced by the rocky education politics of the past few years. Classroom culture wars have dwarfed more direct-to-classroom issues, and Striplin wants to turn that around—at least locally.

"Teacher recruitment and retention [is] definitely a top issue," she said when asked what her top priorities will be post-reelection.

"Second would be closing the gap we saw with academic achievement [during] COVID. [And] third would be the disciplinary issues. We’re seeing a lot of violence, not only in our community but in our schools.”

Striplin positioned herself for reelection by putting more daylight between herself and Superintendent Rocky Hanna, who has openly clashed with Gov. Ron DeSantis on issues like mask mandates. Meanwhile, in the school board District 4 race, two candidates are heading to a runoff in November.

That district covers one of the more conservative parts of Leon County, a school board runoff in November will feature a local assistant principal and a retired district teacher—who is also the favorite of the local Moms for Liberty Chapter.

Laurie Cox has said she’s not sure the 2020 presidential election wasn’t stolen. She’s also said she has friends on both sides of the parental rights debate. Cox was first to jump into the seat left open when former school board member DeeDee Rasmussen resigned just weeks before the qualifying period ended. Godby Assistant Principal Alex Stemle did too—and he has made it a point to draw a distinction between himself and Cox.

“People have all sorts of different takes on what’s going on in our schools –some of it is happening, some isn’t happening. We have to make sure as candidates we get out there, talk to voters and share our message as much as possible. If those people who voted for Laurie took a [closer] look at this race, we hope they’ll slide on over to our side and hopefully see that we are the strong candidate for parents and talk to some of the parents I’ve worked with over the years," he said.

Stemle pulled 46.42% of the vote as of midnight to Cox’s 42%. Another Moms for Liberty-friendly candidate, Susan Hodges, got 11%.

Primaries typically draw the interest of the party faithful. Now Stemle and Cox will have to appeal to a broader swatch of voters in a county that’s still dominated by Democrats, but a district where Republicans have a bit more clout than in other parts of the county.

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Lynn Hatter is a Florida A&M University graduate with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. Lynn has served as reporter/producer for WFSU since 2007 with education and health care issues as her key coverage areas.  She is an award-winning member of the Capital Press Corps and has participated in the NPR Kaiser Health News Reporting Partnership and NPR Education Initiative. 

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