Meet Our Candidates: Kristel Foster for Tucson Unified School Board

The Arizona primary election will be held on August 30, 2016. Reproductive health care access has been under attack, both nationally and statewide, but Planned Parenthood Advocates of Arizona has endorsed candidates who have shown strong commitment to reproductive justice. To acquaint you with our endorsed candidates, we are running a series called “Meet Our Candidates.” In order to vote in the primary election, you need to have been registered to vote by August 1. Missed the deadline? You can still register online for November’s general election. Make your voice heard in 2016!

kristel foster[K]ristel Ann Foster is a Spanish-speaking educator first elected to the Tucson Unified School District Governing Board in 2012. She’s seeking a second term. A language-acquisition specialist with degrees from Northern Arizona University and the University of Arizona, she’s spent her entire career teaching and developing curricula — in Sunnyside Unified School District; at the University of Arizona, as a clinical assistant professor; in the Aurora, Colorado, public schools; and at the Discovery School in Cuernavaca, Mexico.

“Knowledge empowers individuals to better their lives.”

Foster has said that she’s proud of her work with Superintendent H.T. Sanchez and fellow Board members Cam Juarez and Adelita Grijalva to craft a Five Year Strategic Plan that offers “continuity, stability, and articulated vision [that] was missing for a long time in TUSD.’’

“I am an educator who understands how critical the political process and actions by elected officials are to the effectiveness and success of our public schools,’’ Foster writes on her Facebook page. “I am also aware of the serious attacks that public programs are under. My passion for quality public education and dedication to the students and teachers in our community inspire my service on the Tucson Unified School District’s Governing Board.’’

Foster responded by email on July 21, 2016, to questions Planned Parenthood Advocates of Arizona posed.

Tell us a little about your background and why it’s important to you to be involved with education in your community.

I am an educator with 25 years of teaching experience. I’ve directly experienced policy decisions in the classroom and know how these affect teaching and learning. I’m honored to bring this perspective to the discussions we have on the TUSD Board as we move our school district forward.

TUSD recently voted to include comprehensive sexuality education in its classrooms. What would you like this new curriculum to look like?

Like many school districts, TUSD has a sex-ed policy with the word “comprehensive.’’ But this word is often up for interpretation. We revised our policy to define the word “comprehensive” so that we are clear that our classes provide medically accurate, age-appropriate information about anatomy and reproduction, teach students about the risks of unwanted pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases, and empower students to make decisions for themselves about their bodies and relationships.

We have appointed a committee of community members who will come together and review current curriculum, and possible new curriculum to adopt, to make sure these materials cover this definition of “comprehensive,” and do so in a way that respects the diverse opinions and perspectives in our community.

In the most recent legislative session, the state Senate refused to hear SB 1020, which would have made sex education opt-out rather than opt-in. Can you explain why this seemingly small change would have made such a big difference?

The main difference between opt-in and opt-out has to do with what is the “norm.” If we have to get permission from parents to teach specific content through opting in, it’s as if that particular curriculum is not the norm. This insinuates controversy and taboo, something you have to get permission to do. Knowledge of how one’s body works and how to keep it safe and healthy should not be controversial or taboo.

When a set curriculum is the norm and certain parents choose to opt out, well then, it’s the prerogative of the parent to perceive the content as controversial, but the standard understanding is that it is simply normal.

Imagine if we had students opt in to saying the Pledge of Allegiance. We don’t, because we hold that as the norm for all to recite at the beginning of every school day. There is nothing controversial or taboo about that. Certain parents, however, decide to opt their children out of this practice, and the opinion of whether or not the Pledge is controversial lies with them, and doesn’t affect the majority of people who consider the Pledge to be an appropriate and normal routine to practice every day.

According to current Arizona law (ARS 15-176), no school district that includes HIV/AIDS education in its curricula may use instruction that “promotes a homosexual life-style,” “portrays homosexuality as a positive alternative life-style,” or “suggests that some methods of sex are safe methods of homosexual sex.” Why do you think it’s so important for sex education in Arizona to be inclusive of all students?

The definition of what’s normal is always evolving. At one time it was not normal for students of different colors to learn beside each other in our schoolrooms. Our society has evolved since then and we would never think of crafting policy mandating such a practice today. Our society’s understanding of homosexuality has evolved as well and today this Arizona law is antiquated. We changed our laws to remove practices of racial discrimination and today find ourselves having to revise them again to remove practices of discrimination against sexual orientation.

While I took an oath to follow the Constitution and state laws as a Board member, I did not promise that I wouldn’t stand up and advocate for laws such as this that should be revised and changed to best reflect the world we are living in today. We must model that, revisiting policy and laws to make sure they reflect our current values is our civic responsibility in our democracy.

What do you think about the connection between teenage pregnancy and high-school dropout rates?

We must provide our young people with an educational foundation to assure they can contribute to our economy and earn a living to take care of themselves and their families when they are adults. Teenage pregnancy interrupts this from happening or makes it more challenging than it has to be. The vast majority of teenage pregnancies are unplanned, and with comprehensive knowledge about pregnancy prevention, we can empower young people to have control over the order of events that make up their lives.

Why was it important for you to be endorsed by Planned Parenthood Advocates of Arizona?

Both public education and Planned Parenthood share the core value that knowledge empowers individuals to better their lives. That is the bottom line, the simple reason why I am honored to be recognized by Planned Parenthood [Advocates of Arizona] with this endorsement.

To learn more about Kristel Foster’s candidacy, check out her website or like her on Facebook!

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