Candidates for Anne Arundel County’s Board of Education fielded questions on equity, the achievement gap and how to address racism in schools during a forum this past week hosted by the Caucus of African-American Leaders.

The candidates generally agree more could be done to train staff and forge stronger connections between families and schools to address equity.

Tuesday’s forum follows a series of incidents in county schools in recent years, including the discovery of nooses at a school, racial slurs written on school property and allegations of employees using slurs to refer to children. Those incidents prompted a resolution signed by both the caucus and the Anne Arundel chapter of the NAACP calling on the system to proactively address racism.

The county is transitioning to an elected school board with a staggered start — representatives from districts 1, 4, 5 and 7 will be elected this year, and then representatives from 2, 3 and 6 will be elected next year.

Ten candidates participated in the caucus forum: Candace Antwine and Sidney Butcher from District 1, Julie Hummer, Melissa Ellis and Donna Rober from District 4, Dana Schallheim, Terry Gilleland and Vincent Goldsmith from District 5, and Laticia Hicks and Ray Leone from District 7. Gilleland, Hummer and Butcher are incumbents.

District 7 candidate David Starr and District 1 candidate Michelle Corkadel did not attend.

Candidates addressed questions posed by moderators Thornell Jones, Charlestine Fairley and Vince Leggett.

Rober, of Crownsville, said she completed a mandatory 18 hours of race relations training while in the Army. She said that similar to what Starbucks did recently after an incident at a Philadelphia store, she would support shutting schools down for a few days spaced out over a marking period to complete such training.

Butcher, of Hanover, advocated for implicit bias training in schools, a measure he has suggested in the past. That should happen from the top down, he said, and include students as well as their parents.

Students should have open and safe discussions about race and racism starting in kindergarten, said Schallheim, a Severna Park resident. It should be woven in like math or reading, she said.

Gilleland agreed, saying training and professional development are also essential.

Hummer, currently president of the board, noted a class being piloted at Arundel High School that focuses on diversity and understanding others cultures from a global perspective. The Laurel resident expressed hope it could be expanded system-wide.

On the subject of including families in the discussion around racism and bias, Hicks, of Crofton, suggested creating a safe space in schools for parents to have a dialogue face to face.

Leone, of Edgewater, said he would hold the school system accountable for reaching into the community to discuss issues of racism, or in bringing the community into schools. Bring them a feast, he said, adding, “You have to look at the hard work of what it is to bring folks in.”

Antwine, of Odenton, said it is important to understand the diverse range of needs parents have. “Family means one thing at Fort Meade and another thing in Glendale and Ferndale,” she said.

The subject of the renewal of Superintendent George Arlotto’s contract was also raised — Butcher stood behind his decision to vote to renew his contract, saying every racial incident that has occurred since February has been thoroughly investigated.

Ellis, of Millersville, said she thinks that board should have only extended Arlotto’s contract by one year, giving the newly elected board a say. “That’s something we are lacking in — holding our administration accountable for creatively solving a lot of the problems we’re having right now,” she said.

On boosting minority enrollment in advanced placement classes, Gilleland, of Millersville, said addressing an “attitude” gap is important — that means getting everyone to believe early in life that education is important and the key to success.

Goldsmith, of Millersville, also said early inspiration is key, as well as making students realize education is a path to success.

“Inspire these kids that they’ve got a better path,” he said.

Early voting in the county started this past Thursday, and the primary election is Tuesday, June 26. Voters will decide which two non-partisan candidates advance to the general election in each district.