Masks and vaccinations, sex education and Critical Race Theory, PRIDE Club and land acknowledgements — the Enumclaw School District Board of Directors has heard concerns and complaints about all that and more this last year.
For the most part, though, the board has declined to respond to the myriad issues in a public manner, preferring to address the topics individually or through notices on the district’s website.
That changed during the Dec. 13 board meeting, when Director Tyson Gamblin addressed many of the matters brought before the board in a twenty-minute speech. In a later email to the Courier-Herald, he stressed the thoughts he shared were his own, and were not a joint statement of the board as a whole or a statement made on behalf of the school district.
“The reason I decided to share my thoughts at our last school board meeting were a variety of reasons. We installed three new board directors and I wanted the public to know their role and duties as School Board Directors,” Gamblin wrote. “The School District has been very clear in responses to Sex Education, CRT and Masks and there seems to be continued questions. I also wanted to lay out some of the consequences of going against the governor’s [mask] mandate or Department of Health. I also wanted to take the opportunity to denounce racism and hate speech. I missed an opportunity at the previous board meeting and I should have done better.”
THE MASK MANDATE
Gamblin started out his speech by honoring outgoing Directors Jennifer Watterson and Bryan Stanwood and celebrating Directors Julianna DeShayes, Lori Metschan, and Paul Fisher, who took their oaths of office earlier in the meeting; this was followed by a quick explanation of the duties and goals of the board.
But then he dove straight into the controversial topics that have hounded school districts around the country.
First up was Gov. Jay Inslee’s school mask mandate, of which a growing number of parents and community members have pleaded with the district to take a stand against. According to district officials, school districts and boards have to abide by the mandate or face severe financial repercussions.
“I may not personally agree with the law or the powers that the emergency order holds. I may not personally agree with the mandate to have our children wear masks while at school,” Gamblin said. “[But] as a School Board director I am not going to put this district in jeopardy of the consequences” of defying the mandate. “If funding is cut, which is estimated [at] $41 million, what does that do to our kids and the staff and programs we presently offer? This dramatic loss would have long term implications for our district, and our kids’ education may still be impacted by not being able to learn in person.”
Gamblin added that defying the mandate could even have consequences for educators, saying, “Perhaps you were not aware that teachers’ credentials can be revoked if they went against the mandate and Department of Health.”
According to Gamblin, teachers can receive letters of concern, be reprimanded, or have their licenses suspended or revoked for failing to follow the code of professional conduct under Washington Administrative Code — including failing “to protect the health, safety, and general welfare of students within the state of Washington,” which Gamblin connects to the current mask mandate
However, according to Katy Payne, communications director at the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction, “the state has never indicated that it would revoke the teaching credentials for educators who violate the mask mandate.”
Further backlash for defying the mask mandate could also include losing all insurance coverage and opening the district to potential lawsuits, Gamblin continued.
“This past year the School Board considered submitting a letter to Gov. Inslee and creating a resolution in regards to mask wearing in our schools. Before we moved forward with these actions we sought the School Districts legal counsel,” Gamblin said. “After receiving our attorney’s counsel that we should not send a letter or create a resolution as it could be used against us in potentially future lawsuits, we did not want to put the district at risk and did move forward with these items.”
The next topic of interest was sex education; a handful of community members have voiced their opinions supporting or decrying Senate Bill 5395, which was passed by the state Legislature early 2020 and survived a voter referendum later in the year. The bill requires all school districts in the state to teach “comprehensive age appropriate sexual health education” by the 2022-2023 school year, according to the referendum ballot measure.
“This new legislation has gained a lot of attention in the media,” Gamblin said. “When the first draft of the bill for sex education was written, it was alarming and had major flaws. I want to stress that the initial draft is not what was passed. The bill went through several revisions and amendments. In the end, what was being articulated in the bill the Enumclaw School District had already been doing and our curriculum met all the new state requirements… we are not doing anything differently than we previously were.”
Gamblin emphasized that parents will continue to be notified before sex-ed courses begin, that they are free to review all the curriculum being taught, and finally, still retain the power to opt their child out of sex-ed.
CRITICAL RACE THEORY AND RACISM
More than a few people have expressed concerns over Critical Race Theory (CRT) being taught in Enumclaw schools, especially in light of Senate Bill 5044, which was passed by the state Legislature and signed by Gov. Inslee last spring.
For those not in the know, Critical Race Theory is a decades-old academic theory that racism isn’t just an attitude harbored by individuals, but that it’s also systemically perpetuated through various institutions like the justice, education, and health care systems, to name a few.
However, according to ESD, SB 5044 has nothing to do with CRT; “Among other things, the law requires [the Washington State School Directors’ Association] to identify or develop and periodically update governance training programs that align with Cultural Competency, Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion standards for school director governance,” the district’s website reads. “The law requires a professional training day for school district staff that focuses on topics such as diversity, equity and inclusion. This bill has no component of training or curriculum for students.”
In his speech, Gamblin made it clear CRT is not being taught in the district.
“Enumclaw School District will not be teaching a course on Critical Race Theory nor will our courses be infused with CRT ideology,” he said. “Now, I want to clarify a few things in regards to this. In education, words such as equity, diversity and inclusion do not equate to or mean Critical Race Theory. These words have been used in training in education and businesses for years well before anyone even knew what CRT stood for… Discussing cultures, values, and historical events, does not equal Critical Race Theory.”
And in light of diversity and inclusion, Gamblin went on to denounce racism in the school district and the Enumclaw community at large.
“Sadly our last board meeting put our community in the news in a negative way,” he said, referring when the Nov. 22 board meeting was “zoombombed” by what appeared to be two individuals repeating the “n” word. News of the incident spread across the country, from The Olympian to The Miami Times.
“Many would say this is an isolated incident,” Gamblin continued, but that is not the case: “In the summer of 2020 we had numerous students come to our school board meeting via Zoom and use the public comment portion of our meeting to share their encounters with racism and hate speech in our schools. This is not just happening at our high schools but in our middle schools… Kids should not be worried about finding acceptance based on their skin color, language they speak, the way they talk, what they wear or what they look like. We as a community need to support all our children.”