EDITORIAL: School switch effort impressive

The Oak Harbor School District and the community teamed up to accomplish an amazing feat in a single week.

On Friday, April 19, Superintendent Rick Schulte closed the old North Whidbey Middle School due to health concerns. At the time, the school was home to students and teachers assigned to Olympic View Elementary, which is undergoing remodeling.

Suddenly, without any notice, hundreds of students and teachers had nowhere to go. They were told to take a week off while other plans were made. One week later, on Monday, April 29, all those students and teachers were back in school.

Make that three schools. Hillcrest Elementary, Oak Harbor Elementary, and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints all made room for new students. The entire community, from the Navy to community service groups, school district staff, city staff, as well as parents, donated their time and ideas to make the change work.

Joyce Swanson, principal of Olympic View, summed it up nicely in a news release: “This has been an extremely challenging and gratifying experience to see so many people pull together to protect quality educational programs for our kids,” she said.

The start of school on Monday no doubt hit a few transitional bumps in the road, but things will smooth out in a hurry. The hundreds of Olympic View students and teacher now have safe facilities in which to finish the 2001-2002 school year.

With the emergency now over, the school district will have time to address the underlying issues. First priority should be to closely examine the old North Whidbey Middle School and find out what the problem is. Some parents say mold spores have made teachers and children sick, but there’s no proof of that. We need accurate answers as quickly as possible.

The other issue is why the closure caught so many people by surprise, from school board members to the general public. Apparently, health problems potentially related to the old school have been talked about for months, possibly years. Why wasn’t it public knowledge? To our knowledge, the school board never addressed the issue in public. As a result, some parents think the school district was trying to hide something, or was dragging its heels on addressing a sticky situation. The public needs an explanation, and the school board needs a policy on how to handle health concerns in schools so the public won’t again be caught by surprise.

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