Two school board members face recall election for vax term in Belchertown

BELCHERTOWN — Two outgoing school committee members who supported a COVID-19 vaccine requirement for students participating in sports and extracurricular activities last fall face a recall election on Monday.

Both Michael Knapp and Diane Brown will be on the recall ballot, while two challengers, Kristen Lech and Stephan Corbin, seek to replace Knapp. Brown faces no announced opposition.

Polls are open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. at the Belchertown High School gymnasium.

The successful recall petitions that sparked the election stem from concern from some residents after the committee passed a policy requiring that all students 16 and older involved in sports teams or other extracurricular activities should receive fully cleared and FDA-approved COVID-19. vaccine. This has since been amended with a weekly test option for these students.

Brown, whose term ends May 16, and Knapp, whose term runs until May 15, 2023, both chose not to step down, but instead to confront voters. For Brown or Knapp to be removed from the committee, voters would have to approve the recall and then give a plurality of votes to someone else.

Knapp said that in his nine years on the panel, his goal was to make schools work for every child, stressing the importance of education for social mobility. But in the age of COVID-19, new challenges have arisen.

“We listened to families and residents, but also health and education experts, to serve everyone’s best interests,” Knapp said.

He understands there has been a push back on the sports and extracurricular activities policy, but observes that at a meeting last October criticism came from some who argue that COVID-19 is less deadly than the flu. seasonal.

“This is truly an unprecedented health crisis, and the goal in all of this is to keep schools open,” Knapp said. “You can’t do that if the kids are sick.”

Along with keeping children and staff safe, Knapp also traces controversy over his tenure as being a strong advocate for fairness, observing there was a backlash when the committee passed an anti-racism resolution. in 2020. He compares this to the outcry over critical race theory in other parts of the country.

At the January 11 committee meeting, Knapp became the first member of the city’s school committee to receive the All-State School Committee award from the Massachusetts Association of School Committees.

In a candidate statement recorded for Belchertown Community Television, Knapp is candid. “The recall is a political stunt and an attempt to subvert the will of the voters of this city.”

Corbin, who has coached youth sports teams and volunteered on nonprofit boards and city committees, got into the race because the recall showed the school committee was not interested in dialogue with parents.

“I think it’s become apparent that a few members of the school board are pushing ahead with decisions based on their own interests and not listening to their constituents,” Corbin said.

The committee’s vaccine mandate, he said, has led to growing dissatisfaction with the committee for its attitude toward those with differing views.

“Residents are tired of being belittled and chastised for not thinking like other people,” Corbin said in a candidate statement to Community TV, adding that it’s time to change expectations about the voices that are not heard or are looked down upon.

Corbin said most important to his service will be openness and transparency, that the committee should not just adhere to the letter of the law, but get real input on all topics.

Additionally, Corbin said he wanted to focus on the nearly $1 million feasibility study for a new college and prepare the school board for discussions about a post-COVID education system. He said there should also be a serious discussion about lifting mask requirements for students, as young children wearing masks may face learning disabilities and shortcomings.

Lech said she has long considered running for school committee, deciding to take the plunge now for several reasons, including that she can work with families and teachers to create and maintain the best possible educational experience in Belchertown.

Lech also wants to ensure that educators have the resources and support they need to be highly effective for all student populations, and she hopes to give back to the community.

“If elected, my goals would include working collaboratively with other members to identify and develop equitable plans to meet the needs of the district,” Lech said.

While not specifically addressing the recall, Lech assures residents that she intends to work cooperatively with all members of the community.

“I will not let my opinions get in the way of my decision-making responsibilities, but rather will make decisions based on solid data and facts, as well as actively listening to all stakeholders in a respectful manner,” Lech said.

Lech has worked in the field of education for over 15 years, including as a special education teacher and special education administrator at the elementary and middle school levels. She is the Director of Graduate Programs in Special Education and English as a Second Language (ESL) at Bay Path University.

“Residents should vote for me in the next election because change is good,” Lech said. “I would bring a new and fresh perspective to the committee.”

Brown did not immediately respond to a request for comment, though a group supporting her and Knapp launched a website that includes her candidate statements.

Scott Merzbach can be contacted at