Two candidates seeking the Republican nomination for Colbert County Schools superintendent went head-to-head in a debate Thursday, answering questions about hot cultural topics and school policy issues.

Nathan Fuller, the principal at New Bethel Elementary School, and Heather Mize, the director of career technical education at Tuscumbia City Schools, have years of experience in administrative roles with impressive records, but their differences, sometimes subtle, became apparent during the debate.

Colbert County Republican Women hosted the debate, and 1819 News CEO Bryan Dawson moderated. The majority of the questions taken from members of the community dealt with “divisive concepts” such as gender ideology, CRT and parental rights.

The two began by defining education and the role the State should play.

“Our job is to educate the whole child, not indoctrinate the child. We are given standards, curriculum, textbooks to choose from that’s determined by the state of Alabama,” Mize said. “So our job is to make sure our kids learn the facts and that we teach them to learn and respond and grow themselves, not indoctrinate.”

Fuller responded, “Our job is to educate the students. Certainly, the State plays a role in that. A large portion of our funding comes from the state, and with that always comes some accountability and some resources as well. We also have to include our communities and the parents in decisions that we make in our schools. Parental involvement, parental engagement is something that is really important.”

colbert super debate Alabama News
A large crowd gathers inside the North Shoals Community College gym to hear the candidates debate. (Colbert County Republican Women/Facebook)

Other questions ranged from the technical, such as how to address chronic absenteeism, to the personal, such as when Mize had to explain her relationship to Democrat Marcel Black, who donated $500 to her campaign.

“I’m not sure how that relates to education, but he is a long-time friend,” she said. “...That’s not someone I talk to every day, but they are long-time friends of my family.”

Both candidates said they did not favor mask mandates during the COVID-19 pandemic and supported school choice, provided schools maintained accountability standards. Both also said they would promote traditional values regarding gender and keep divisive concepts out of the school district.

“My daughter is not going to use a restroom where a male is also in the restroom at the same time,” Fuller said. “So if I wouldn’t have that for my daughter, I wouldn’t have that for yours or anyone else in the room. I would do everything possible to prevent that from taking place.”

One area where they appeared to differ, however, was if and when to contact the parents regarding their child’s mental health.

Mize said she would wait until the student was in clear danger or “suicidal” to contact a parent.

“We want to make sure we respect our child’s privacy, but it’s also important for parents to be informed when their child is in danger,” she said. “We leave that to our mental health coordinators.”

Mize could not give an example of when a child’s right to privacy should supersede a parent’s right to know. However, she again said that would be up to the mental health professionals.

Fuller said he would contact parents well before it got to the point of self-harm, and then he would notify parents and get their consent for bringing in an outside party to speak to their child.

Other questions during the hour-plus-long debate dealt with corporal punishment, school consolidation, inappropriate library books, taxes, curriculum transparency, workforce development, and the alleged “furry phenomenon” where students claiming to identify as animals use litter boxes in school.

“I am preparing kids for the workforce. You don’t get to take your litter box to your job as an engineer or to McDonald’s,” Mize said. “So I try to have a conversation with the kids, but I draw the line at a litter box.”

A full video of the debate was live-streamed to Facebook, courtesy of the Shoals Insider.

Residents can cast their vote for either Fuller or Mize during the 2024 Primary Election on March 5.

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