Mariana Blanco launches bid for Palm Beach School Board with incumbent’s endorsement

Mariana Blanco cropped
Blanco’s advocacy and aid work has placed her at the forefront of several emergency response efforts and policy debates in recent years.

Mariana “Mari” Blanco, Assistant Executive Director of the Guatemalan-Maya Center in Lake Worth Beach, is running for the Palm Beach County School Board.

Blanco just filed paperwork to run in what is now a three-person race to succeed Alexandria Ayala in the panel’s District 2 seat.

And Ayala, who confirmed last week that she will not seek a second term on the seven-member Board, is backing Blanco’s bid, Blanco’s campaign said.

“I am eager to put my extensive community engagement experience to work for Palm Beach County students, teachers and staff,” Blanco said in a statement Friday.

“I am focused on working to reach educational equity and build upon the incredible successes outgoing board member Ayala has accomplished. Together, we can build a school system that empowers every student to thrive and succeed.”

Born in Mexico City, Blanco and her family moved to South Florida when she was 7, according to a short biography her campaign provided. She attended Loyola University Chicago and graduated with a double major in social work and criminal justice.

Blanco first became involved with the nonprofit Guatemalan-Maya Center, which has helped South Florida’s immigrant communities since the 1980s, at age 15 through the organization’s Escuelita Maya afterschool programs.

She returned to the center in 2015 to oversee its after-school programs as Curriculum Director and became its Assistant Executive Director three years later.

Blanco’s advocacy and aid work has placed her at the forefront of several emergency response efforts and policy debates in recent years. In 2021, WPBF reported that Blanco spoke in favor of language citing “white advantage” in a Palm Beach School Board’s equity statement, saying she’d seen migrant children suffer from racial biases in the existing school system structure. The panel removed the language after hours of public criticism.

Blanco also helped oversee an outreach effort that year to get farm workers vaccinated against COVID-19.

Last May, when Lake Worth Middle School was locked down following a code red, the Guatemalan-Maya Center handled many calls from the school’s Spanish-speaking parents. Blanco and the center also spoke against a law Gov. Ron DeSantis later signed to clamp down on illegal migration in Florida.

This January, Blanco started a petition to release an 18-year-old Guatemalan farmworker arrested in May 2023. The teen has been charged with aggravated manslaughter and resisting arrest after a St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office sergeant died of a heart attack while trying to detain him.

Blanco’s petition, which says the young man was a victim of racial profiling, police brutality and Fourth Amendment violations — claims, supporters say, that are backed by body camera footage of the incident — received 300,000 signatures in just three days. It now has more than double that sum.

Blanco and the Guatemalan-Maya Center are also helping the farmworker, who speaks a Mayan language called Mam, with interpretation services and competency training.

Others competing in the technically nonpartisan race to succeed Ayala include West Palm Beach resident Angel Rodriguez Suarez and Virginia Savietto, a longtime county government administrative professional now working for Palm Beach Commissioner Gregg Weiss.

District 2 includes parts of Greenacres, Cloud Lake, Haverhill, Lake Clarke Shores, Lake Worth, Palm Springs and West Palm Beach.

Jesse Scheckner

Jesse Scheckner has covered South Florida with a focus on Miami-Dade County since 2012. His work has been recognized by the Hearst Foundation, Society of Professional Journalists, Florida Society of News Editors, Florida MMA Awards and Miami New Times. Email him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @JesseScheckner.

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