County officials opine on school board kerfuffle

The Board of Health may weigh into a controversy involving the Stanwood-Camano Island school board.

The Island County Board of Health may weigh into a controversy involving members of the Stanwood-Camano Island school board accused of making offensive remarks in a discussion about diversity policies.

Island County Commissioner Janet St. Clair brought up her concerns at the end of the commissioners’ meeting on Tuesday. She said she was alarmed to read a story in the Stanwood Camano News about comments two school board members made in support of stripping diversity and equity language from a policy document.

One of the board members, Steve King, said that homeless students or those who have a parent struggling with addiction have “very, very limited potential” and that resources shouldn’t be spent trying to bring those students up to par with their peers, the Stanwood Camano News reported.

Tuesday, St. Clair suggested that the commissioners could send a letter supporting the school board’s ultimate decision not to “roll back” efforts toward inclusion and equity.

“For me, it is less about the board actions and more about these are our constituents and our children,” she said. “Our youth have the right to live in a community where they’re allowed to thrive and be included in curriculum and be respected.”

Commissioners Melanie Bacon and Jill Johnson agreed that the school board comments were offensive, but Johnson suggested that it would be more appropriate for the Board of Health to send the letter since the issue is closer to its wheelhouse. Programs overseen by the Board of Health often involve schools and such issues as mental health and substance abuse.

Johnson said she would be happy to write that letter but joked that it would contain F-words. The commissioners instead decided to ask Public Heath Director Shawn Morrison to draft the document.

“Not too polite,” Johnson warned. “It can’t be too polite.”

St. Clair agreed, saying she would discuss the letter with Morrison during “no-filter Friday.” The letter will be considered by the Board of Health during its April meeting, where it has a good chance of being accepted since the commissioners represent the majority of voting members. The Board of Health is made up of all three commissioners, the Oak Harbor mayor and a hospital commissioner.

The Stanwood Camano News reported earlier this month that Betsy Foster, a school board member, started a heated conversation during a meeting by proposing amendments that removed much of the language promoting inclusion and diversity from policy positions recommended by the Washington State School Directors’ Association. She said she was concerned about losing local control to the state.

King, also a board member, said he thinks policies meant to promote equity sometimes end up discriminating against other groups. He is not related to the Coupeville school district superintendent of the same name.

The proposed changes were not adopted. In a “test vote,” Foster was the only board member to vote yes.

Yet the comments by the two school board members spurred pushback during the meeting and afterward, according to the Stanwood Camano News.

The school board president issued a statement apologizing for the comments, saying that elected officials should “exemplify civil discourse free of terms and statements that cause harm and division.” The district’s Equity Team also put out a statement condemning the two board members for violating board policy by not showing mutual respect to staff and students, the newspaper reported.