Owen-Michaane seeks board seat after hearing Champ’s call for medical expertise

Dr. Michael Owen-Michaane in protective gear to treat patients.

During a February school board meeting, Superintendent Dr. Cheryl Champ asked for help from medical experts in the district in the effort to reopen schools safely. Dr. Michael Owen-Michaane took Champ at her word—and decided to run for a seat on the school board.

“When Dr. Champ asked for assistance from medical professionals with interpreting state guidelines and implementing safe in-person instruction, I felt called to offer my knowledge and expertise as a physician,” said Owen-Michaane, who has been treating patients during the Covid-19 pandemic and is an assistant professor of medicine at the Columbia University Medical Center.

He is running for one of two seats on the school board up for election this year. They are currently held by Eileen Miller and Jessica Young, who have not announced if they will seek reelection. Terms of office are three years. The vote on school board candidates and the district’s budget will be held May 18.

In an interview, Owen-Michaane stressed the importance of implementing “science-based mitigation strategies” to allow students to return to full-time in-person instruction safely. He also said it should be a priority to make sure kids who continue in remote instruction “remain connected and engaged and can interact with their teachers and peers.”

The candidate said he will “do the utmost to keep all of our children, teachers, administrators, staff and the entire Pelham community safe and healthy.”

“I’m very worried about a potential increase in depression, anxiety, and drug and alcohol abuse among our kids and teens and want to help the district make sure that kids in need of help are referred for the appropriate resources,” he said.

As a father of four, Owen-Michaane said in a statement announcing his candidacy that he has witnessed the effects of the pandemic on his own children, including “prolonged social isolation, learning loss, decreased physical activity, increased screen time and serious decline in mental health.”

He said he wants all students to feel “valued, respected, comfortable and safe” at school. “Growing up as a gay kid in the rural south, I did not always feel that way myself.”

On the district’s racial equity audit, Owen-Michaane said that it is particularly important the recommendation on ensuring equity and access to school resources be addressed. As a physician, Owen-Michaane said he knows “that the BIPOC community in the New York area was disproportionately affected by Covid-19.”

“I am very concerned that Covid-19 will magnify disparities in educational outcomes,” he said. “Unfortunately, not all families have access to the same resources to support their children and teens during remote instruction. The district must make sure that students who were disproportionately impacted by Covid-19 and disadvantaged during remote instruction receive equitable access to school resources and support.”