MORRIS TOWNSHIP – Dawn Parkot explains her candidacy for the Morris School District board of education thusly:
“I am being just me.”
That may sound somewhat routine, but Parkot’s candidacy is not.
She has athetoid cerebral palsy, a lifelong affliction that restricts muscle movement and the ability of a person to speak.
Parkot, 50, moves with the help of a motorized wheelchair and speaks through a computer that converts her written words to speech.
Through her life, Parkot seems to have done things an outsider would judge as impossible. She graduated from the University of Notre Dame and soon thereafter got a masters degree in computer science and engineering. Meet with her, as I did the other night, and Parkot displays a photo of her skiing in Colorado. She also has been a member of the New Jersey Para-Olympic equestrienne team.
Parkot ran last year for the school board as well and got about 2,100 votes. That was far behind the two winners who got more than 4,000 votes each.
This year, the terrain is very much the same. There are two seats up on the board from the Morris Township section of the district and incumbents Melissa Spiotta and Susan Pedalino are seeking reelection. The Morris School District ranges over three municipalities – Morristown, Morris Township and Morris Plains.
School boards have become controversial of late and some districts have spirited, multi-candidate battles. Not here. Just like last year, Parkot is the only challenger.
But mirroring a trend being seen elsewhere, Parkot’s views are decidedly to the right.
Prominent on her campaign website is this message:
“Parents know their children best and should make schooling decisions.”
She also talks about opposing “critical race theory,” and that schools should not “indoctrinate” students on progressive beliefs. She also opposes new state health standards that she says introduce students to sexually explicit material at too young an age.
Parkot says closing schools to in-class learning during the pandemic has hurt education, arguing that district students are struggling with math and science because of it.
These views have earned her the endorsement of Moms for Liberty, a nationwide conservative organization.
The Morristown area is one of the more Democratic regions of Morris County, so it’s questionable if these views will garner wide support.
Parkot, who graduated from Morristown High School herself, also says the district must do a better job educating students with disabilities.
“Parents of children with disabilities are frustrated of having no voice on the Board of Education (of someone) who understands their problems,” she writes. “I want to use my communication talents to help students with disabilities and their parents.”
Politics can be an awfully cruel business.
As commendable as it is for a physically challenged person to seek public office, it’s logical to ask if Parkot has experienced any negative comments – no matter how coded – about her disability.
Some apparently have wondered how Parkot, who is unable to immediately provide detailed answers to questions, would function as a board member.
The answer is that Parkot can prepare responses and suggestions to be computer-read in advance. All meetings have an agenda. She can also email concerns. She also has an alphabet message board that allows her to communicate a handful of words – like voting yes or no – by spelling them out.
Parkot makes it seem much easier than skiing or riding horses.