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“You sure know how to fill a place up,” Director Ken Christoferson said to the Stanwood Camano School District’s new superintendent, Deborah Rumbaugh, at her first School Board meeting last week.

The agenda was slim, but the room was full when about 60 people crowded into the Stanwood Camano School Board meeting Tuesday to voice concerns about masks and vaccinations for children, sex education, mental health support and critical race theory.

The board meeting is now held in person with masks required but is also shown online. Many people at the meeting in person wore masks below their noses or no masks at all. They were reminded that masks were required to cover mouths and noses, but few responded.

While 15 people spoke, both in person and online, some in the audience cheered and jeered, sometimes talking over the speaker.

Through it all, the board members listened attentively, which one speaker thanked them for.

Parents cited many reasons they didn’t want their children to wear masks when school starts in the fall. They said it caused problems with their breathing and with not being able to see people’s faces.

Many people spoke out against critical race theory, or CRT, being taught at school.

Critical race theory is a legal framework developed in the 1970s-1980s at Harvard Law School. Law professor and CRT co-founder Kimberlé Crenshaw defined it as, “a theory that racism is not just the product of individual bias, but is embedded in legal systems and policies.”

Tracy Mec read a statement that CRT teaches that all minorities are oppressed by the whites, that the goal is to overthrow the United States and the Constitution and rebuild it as a communist country.

Rick Flores, via Zoom, said he first heard of CRT when he took a master’s level course, which teaches it as a theory, not a curriculum. He knows first hand because he studied it. He said it’s not what some say it is.

“For some reason, a lot of our right-wing neighbors feel that diversity, equality and inclusion is the same thing as critical race theory …,” Flores said.“ I think it is absolutely imperative for the school district to provide opportunities for students to learn about the different cultures that make up this country … As someone who does work in diversity, equity and inclusion, it is great to see a rural community like ours putting an effort into making all students feel welcome,” he said.

Flores asked people to educate themselves on CRT.

“Look at Harvard Law School who developed this framework. It’s a theory. It’s not a curriculum. Do some reading and educate yourselves,” he ended as several people in the room booed.

Tracy Abuhl told the board that her grandson started saying he was depressed after he got a survey about depression. He later got a survey about suicide.

“You guys are projecting stuff onto our children,” she said.

Ale Flatto, a freshman last school year at Stanwood High School, appreciated the mental health support at school.

“For a long time, I felt like I’d never feel safe at my school,” she said.

She’s been made fun of and called names. But this year was different. She felt that teachers listened and cared. Flatto worked all year to make others feel safe, too. 

“Many students in my school deal with mental health and a good percentage of them have thought about suicide. A good percentage of them have thought they’ve been ignored and have felt that no one cares about them because of people who ignore situations,” Flatto said.

The student ignored heckling in the meeting room and continued.

She said, teachers who are now listening to conversations in the halls and classrooms and standing up for them is what will help students become better adults.

Dori Ohlson spoke against a policy proposal on the agenda that would limit the public comment period in School Board meetings to a total of 15 minutes. She questioned how the board could know what the public’s wishes are if speech is limited.

When time came for the board to discuss that proposed policy, Director Ken Christoferson said he didn’t want to limit the opportunity for people to speak. Director Al Schreiber agreed, saying he enjoyed listening to people and didn’t want to shorten the comment period.

“Thanks you for your comments. We’ll listen as long as we need to,” Schreiber said.

“I think it takes a lot of courage for people to come talk about the things that are important,” Christoferson said. “… we listen to the comments and take them to heart. It doesn’t mean that we agree with everything. People have differences of opinion, but the one thing that we do share is that we care deeply about the children in our community — all of our children. Many are hurting. I can assure you, efforts are underway to make it the best it can be. There’s no one that secretly trying to do harm to anybody.”

After the meeting

Many people left to wave anti-mask and vaccination signs along Highway 532, while the board continued in a second meeting to discuss how to communicate with parents and the broader community, that the board doesn't control masks and vaccinations at school — the district follows state requirements. The board wants to be transparent about what is actually being taught in schools, which isn’t CRT.

Emails were sent to families and staff after the meeting stating, “School districts, childcare facilities and day camps are required to follow the requirements set by the state of Washington. At times, the guidance for the general population may differ from the guidance given to schools. The mask guidelines are an example of these differences. As of today, face-covering requirements in our schools remain in place.”

As state requirements ease, the district will follow suit. The district clarified that it doesn't require COVID-19 vaccines for students or staff.

School business

Steve Lidgard, the district’s business and finance director, said the preliminary 2021-22 school budget will get a public hearing and will be adopted at the Aug. 17 meeting.

The $84 million budget has more expenditures than revenue for the second year in a row. Revenue this year comes to $81 million. With a beginning balance of $10 million, the gap is covered.

Even with having shortages, the school budget is still projected to meet the minimum fund policy and have a sustainable budget, Lidgard said.

“The biggest driver of our budget is enrollment. We’ve had a rough year this year with all the COVID changes and people changing schools, so we budgeted conservatively on what we know and not what we hope, and we staffed accordingly,” he said.

The budget is based on 4,424 students up slightly from last year at 4,411.

All breakfasts and lunches will be available at no charge for anyone who wants it in the coming school year. The school doesn’t know yet what the spacing requirements will be for children eating meals.

The board approved receipt of $7,000 from the Stanwood High School 4A Booster Club to buy wireless handheld mics for the choir program and $4,520 for materials to upgrade the high school ceramics program. The donations came through a grant from the Stillaguamish Tribe of Indians. The board also approved $500 from the Stanwood-Camano Junior Athletic Youth Football Association for the Stanwood Middle School athletic program.

Contact reporter Peggy Wendel at pwendel@scnews.com or 360-416-2189.

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