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The 2022 midterm elections are the first of the Biden era. They're also the first since the 2020 census, which means there are new congressional districts. There are U.S. Senate races in the Carolinas as well, along with many state and local races.

Four 'Free the Smiles' candidates move toward Iredell-Statesville school board seats

Students at Iredell-Statesville's Sharon Elementary School in September, when masks were required.
Superintendent Jeff James
Iredell-Statesville Schools
Students at Iredell-Statesville's Sharon Elementary School in September, when masks were required.

Tuesday’s primary moved Iredell-Statesville Schools closer to having a new majority on the school board. Four of the seven seats are on the ballot this year, and none of the incumbents ran for reelection.

A group called Free the Smiles, created in January, endorsed candidates for all of those races — and two of them are apparently poised to take office in December.

Free the Smiles founder Jeramy Smith
Free the Smiles YouTube
Free the Smiles founder Jeramy Smith

Founder Jeramy Smith says in an introductory video that the group opposes mandates that restrict parents' rights.

"We believe that masks should be optional. We believe that critical race theory has no place in the classroom. Vaccines should not be mandated," Smith says. "And lastly, our political leaders and Board of Education should take a stand for the students' and the citizens' liberties."

Two of the group’s candidates, Brian Sloan and Anita Kurn, emerged from the Republican primary with clear victories and no Democratic opponent in November.

A third, Republican Mike Kubiniec, was the only candidate in either primary for the District 5 seat. But Iredell election officials say Billie Spevak has submitted signatures to get on the November ballot as an unaffiliated candidate. The signatures have not been checked to see if she qualifies.

The fourth Free the Smiles candidate, Abby Trent, is five votes ahead of Kent Shoffner in the final but unofficial tally. Election Director Susie Jordan says the elections board is still reviewing provisional ballots and the result won’t be clear until the May 27 canvass. The race is likely to be close enough for the second-place finisher to request a recount. The winner faces Democrat Michelle Coffey in November.

School boards across the country have seen an influx of candidates who became politically active during the pandemic, many of them mobilized by the issues cited by Free the Smiles.

The Iredell group also supported two candidates in the 10-person Republican primary for seats on the Iredell Board of County Commissioners, but neither finished in the top three.

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Ann Doss Helms has covered education in the Charlotte area for over 20 years, first at The Charlotte Observer and then at WFAE. Reach her at ahelms@wfae.org or 704-926-3859.