PORTLAND — Anthony Emerson remembers how, as a young student with Asperger’s syndrome at Riverton Elementary School he needed physical and speech therapy to make it in the classroom. If elected to represent District 5 on the Portland Board of Education on Nov. 3, he hopes to ensure those needing similar services never go without.

“We need to make sure all of our students are getting the education they need. It is not a one size fits all approach,” Emerson said.

Emerson is running against Jeffrey Irish, who hopes to add a different perspective to the board.

“The energy from the board sets the tone for all stakeholders in (Portland Public School) education,” said Irish, who has two children in Portland schools. “I would welcome the opportunity to help build a more positive, inclusive and energetic culture.”

Marnie Morrione, who has served as the representative of District 5, which includes North Deering and a section of the neighborhood around Deering High School, chose not to seek another term.

Irish said he was particularly driven to run for the seat after seeing how the process to remove school resource officers from Deering and Portland high schools was handled. That process, he said, was “flawed” because a study was never done to really examine the pros and cons of having the officers in Portland schools.

Both Emerson and Irish are weary about a plan that was brought up last spring to reconfigure the elementary schools by making some K-2 schools and others 3-5 schools. The idea was dropped in order to focus on the coronavirus response, but could come back up this spring.

“The neighborhood schools are very important. They are where our local community feels their children belong,” Emerson said. “If we want to revisit it, I’d have to see what the exact proposal is.”

Irish said it is “wise to shelve” the reconfiguration plan, especially with the current health pandemic likely to last into the spring.

Emerson, who is endorsed by Equity in Portland Schools, said he would like to see the school district put more focus on students of color, who make up 47 % of the student body.

“We need to hire teachers who look like our student body,” said Emerson, a graduate of Portland Public Schools. “I didn’t have my first teacher of color until I was in college. We need to focus on making sure our students feel safe and respected by teachers, staff and peers.”

Irish, also a Portland Schools alumnus, said he supports the equity work as laid out by the Portland Promise and wants to see that work continue.

“I think the Portland Promise has done a lot of great work, particularly in terms of ensuring a whole community, stakeholder approach,” Irish said.

Emerson said he wants to see more “queer history” taught in Portland schools, with particularly focus on the Stonewall Riots of 1969, the AIDs epidemic and era of gay marriage.

“It is time for our school curriculum to reflect that. Students shouldn’t be sheltered from LGBTQ history and issues. This (history) is very much a part of the fabric of our community,” he said.

Irish said he doesn’t have any specific programs or initiatives he would look to introduce in the short term, in part due to the financial situation the district may find itself in for the fiscal 2021 budget year.

“My biggest concern is what the budget will look like next year. Implementing (new things) at this point would be difficult,” Irish said.

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