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Jordan Peralta begins to board a Yakima School District bus Wednesday, Aug. 25, 2021, during the first day of school in Yakima, Wash.

The pandemic-related travails of the past year and a half make the choices that Yakima School District patrons face in the Nov. 2 election as critical as any they’ve had in recent memory.

Two school board positions are on the ballot, and as the district tries to emerge from months of remote classes, canceled extracurricular activities, and heated controversies over vaccines and masks, voters can’t afford to be passive.

We invited all four candidates from the two races to on-the-record Zoom meetings with our Editorial Board. In each race, only one of the two candidates accepted our invitation.

Here are our recommendations and takeaways after the two sessions:

Yakima school board, Position 1 — We endorse Graciela Villanueva

After 10 years on the board, Villanueva’s understanding and enthusiasm have only seemed to grow.

In speaking with us, her compassion for students was obvious. She emphasized her commitment to getting kids the added mental health and academic support they’ll need as the district moves forward — and we were especially impressed with the importance she placed on hearing students’ points of view.

Her institutional knowledge is particularly valuable now, too. As the board’s current vice chair, she has an impressive grasp on the issues coming down the road, and realistic answers for the obstacles that lie ahead.

On the other hand, her opponent, Kenton Gartrell, declined our invitation to participate in the interview. Instead, he directed us via email to a Facebook video by Yakima City Council candidate Matt Brown. In the video, Brown said he declined a similar invitation from the YH-R on principle.

Too bad Gartrell couldn’t speak for himself. But if he sees answering straightforward questions from a community newspaper in such a cynical and distorted light, then YSD voters are better off not putting him in charge of their tax dollars or their children’s educations. We’re also concerned with Gartrell’s behavior over the past few years in public settings, which doesn’t bode well for service on the board.

The answer seems obvious for Position 1.

Yakima school board, Position 2 — We endorse Ryan Beckett

Beckett’s the challenger in this race, but he’s no newcomer to local education. He spent eight years on the Yakima Schools Foundation Board, including two as president.

He brings clear understanding of the issues at hand, but he brings direct experience with the delivery end of the Yakima School District, too — he attended Yakima Valley schools before moving on to Central Washington University. He’s also a parent.

A Realtor for more than two decades now, Beckett enjoys wide community support. And though we suspect he’ll find himself at odds with other members of the board on occasion, the opinions he voices should be represented. We think he’ll articulate those opinions thoughtfully and diplomatically, which will lead to more thorough consideration of the issues the district faces.

This is not, however, an endorsement we offer lightly.

We’re troubled by the support Beckett has accepted from a couple of extreme groups — specifically SaveYakima and Washington State Parents Rights in Education. He also signed the Yakima County Republican Liberty Caucus Compact, which could put him in some awkward political positions down the road.

Asked if he might be bringing a partisan agenda to a nonpartisan position, Beckett answered forthrightly, describing himself as “a free thinker” who wouldn’t feel beholden to any of the groups.

“I’m probably going to disappoint one or two or three or all of them at some point in time or another,” he said.

We genuinely wish the Position 2 incumbent, Donald Joseph Davis Jr., would have accepted our invitation to talk. We’ve been impressed by several examples of community leadership he’s shown since joining the board in 2016.

But he’s avoided journalists for several years now, and his continuing reluctance to answer questions from us and others is a concern.

In this case, it’s time for a change.