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Board President Gamblin's Speech at School Board Meeting on 12-13-2021

This is our last meeting of 2021.  Oftentimes we take the time in December to reflect on the past year, appreciate outgoing members and swear in new ones.  We anxiously await the coming of a new year which includes new goals and growing together as a new team of 8: Superintendent, 5 board members and 2 student representatives.  2021 was a busy year full of ups and downs.  Lots of things to celebrate and opportunities to learn from.  I’ll share a bit about those shortly, but first I want to honor our outgoing board members, and welcome any new patrons to our meeting. 

I want to thank Jennifer Watterson and Bryan Stanwood for their service on the board.  They served with purpose, often asked hard questions, and continually showed up for our kids.  We also celebrate 3 new board members tonight and I am excited to have them on the board and welcome them.  They decided to join a school board at probably one of the most difficult times to serve on a school board in the history of public education in our community and nation. Jennifer Kent and I have 2 years remaining on our current terms on the board.  Filing for public office happens in May and is always well publicized locally, and by the Elections office.

For many of you this may be your first School Board meeting you have attended.  I want to welcome you.  You may wonder what a School Board Director does? The School Board adopts policies, curriculum and oversees the budget.  We also work in collaboration with the Superintendent to establish the vision, mission and strategic goals. In our School District, Directors choose not to take a salary.  We volunteer and are voted into our public office by our communities. Our role as School Director is to hire the superintendent and evaluate his/her performance based on set goals.   We have one employee we review and that is our Superintendent. All other employees are subject to the supervision of the Superintendent either directly or indirectly.

The School Board typically has 2 meetings a month.  We call the first meeting a workshop where we get the opportunity to visit schools and listen to students and staff on the great work that is going on in their buildings.  Tonight is unique as we have the opportunity to have two of those presentations: Black Diamond Elementary and Thunder Mountain Middle School. We get to learn about their successes, struggles and check in on their School Improvement Plans that are presented by each building annually to the board.  Building workshop meetings are where the board gets to have a more open dialogue on the identified matters and ask questions about things we can do as a Board to support our schools to facilitate a safe and effective learning environment for our kids. This is when we are honored to witness the vision and mission statement of the district at work.  This has been a highlight over the past few years watching our innovative Theory of Action come alive in our classrooms. The second meeting of the month is our business meeting where the work of the district happens: we pass policy, payroll and vouchers, review the budget and hear reports from personnel on matters such as building growth needs and contracts.  

Now to reflect on last year.  It was the goal of the board and the leadership of Dr. Carey to get our kids back in school. The District worked tirelessly with the Department of Health, OSPI, and other agencies to figure out how we could create a strategy to get our kids back in person while still complying with new and ever-changing rules.  If there is one thing we learned more than ever during the pandemic it is that our kids learn best in person.  Our kids need to be in the classroom with other kids and their teachers learning. It was a huge celebration in the Spring of 2021 when we were the only public school district in King County to offer full in person learning.  I want to thank all the employees of the district that came together to undertake this challenge which other districts in our County were unable to do. 

Moving onto some current topics. There have been a lot of parents and families concerned in the state and our community about masks.  Governor Jay Inslee announced a state of Emergency in 2020.  Chris Reykdal Superintendent of Public Instruction sent a letter to all districts across the state on July 29, 2021:

“Under the authority of RCW 43.06.220, the Governor has broad emergency powers, and they have the power of law! Local community members will always have the right to bring their grievances to their elected leaders, but in the case of these public health measures, they are not local decisions. Local boards of directors have broad discretion on the details of instructional delivery. They are not empowered, however, to override the legal authority of public health officers or the Governor in times of a public health emergency. Community actions that result in board actions that violate the law, including executive orders, will jeopardize school budgets, local school personnel, and ultimately the opening of school to in-person learning this fall and beyond. Individuals who violate the mask orders, or other layered mitigation strategies, not only carry individual legal risks, but they also risk cases and outbreaks in school that will warrant quarantines, school building closures, and disruptions in high-quality in-person learning.”

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.  My son Oscar has an IEP for speech.  Would he do better in school without a mask? Absolutely.  Does he go through about 5 masks a day because of his oral motor delay and drooling? Yes.  But, that has not stopped my Oscar from making new friends and learning.  My wife, Sophia and I try to focus on our kids' daily learning experience and not the mask they are wearing.  The majority of kids come home sharing stories about the things they learned or the new activity they did at school.  Kids are resilient and they want to be in the classroom.  To keep our kids in the classroom this is a requirement put in place by the Governor and the Department of Health.  Masks have not stopped them from forming friendships and learning.   You visit any other public school district throughout the state, and you would see that they are also in compliance with the mask mandate enforced by the Governor's office and Department of Health. 

As a School Board director I am not going to put this district in jeopardy of the consequences identified in the letter from OSPI. If funding is cut which is estimated 41 Million Dollars, 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.  Perhaps you were not aware that teachers' credentials can be revoked if they went against the mandate and Department of Health.  The School Districts insurance provider has notified the District that if we went against the mandate and Department of Health we would lose all insurance coverage.  Our attorneys for the district have also clarified the severity of potential lawsuits against the District if we do not follow the Mandate and Department of Health. Again, I want to remind everyone that this is not a local school district created rule or something we have the authority to change.  I may not like the rule but we are obligated to follow it and do what is in the best interest for our district.

This past year the School Board considered submitting a letter to Governor 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.   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 not move forward with these items. Some may be wondering, what about The City of Enumclaw City Council Resolution 1734?  Let me clarify, that resolution has no legal ability to waive mandates enforced by the Department of Health.  Even our city does not have the authority to overrule the Department of Health. 

For many in this room and online, I want you to know I hear you. I have heard you.  In our board meetings we offer opportunities for public comments.  We respect that you have your right to voice your opinion.  I hope that our community can acknowledge a difference of opinion and respectfully disagree.  Continue to show up to the school board meetings and I encourage you to stay for the full meeting. Hear and learn about the great work that is happening despite the challenges! All I ask is that we show some civility when others are presenting when they have their 3 minutes.  For those who feel so passionately about the masks and want to pull your children out of public schools I support you in what you feel is best for you and your family. 

Our teachers work tirelessly to provide a curriculum that expands our students' minds, striving to meet each child where they are in their learning. They balance age appropriate learning with challenging course material to help students achieve their goals. There has been public interest expressed in certain aspects of the curriculum that I would like to address. 

Over the past couple years there has been a lot of discussion about Sex Education.  Enumclaw School District has been teaching Sex Education Human Growth and Development for over 25 years.  Yes, Enumclaw School District was teaching Sex Education in the 1990’s even before Facebook.  The reason I know that, shout out to Mrs. Christensen for taking on me and a classroom of 6th grade boys. This new legislation has gained a lot of attention in the media.  Before the Sex Education bill the only required criteria for school districts in the state was information on HIV/Aids.  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. Again, I want to emphasize that what Enumclaw School District has done in the past meets all new state requirements - we are not doing anything differently than we previously were.   Parents will be notified before the courses, parents have the opportunity to review all the curriculum and still have the option to have their child opt out.  As a result of expressed concerns there is a new page on the district website going over the curriculum and FAQs about the requirements. I would like to add that we do not have to follow all the OSPI standards in regards to sex education. So, if you have questions, please review the website or communicate with your child's teacher or principal.  

Another recent area of parental concern is in regards to the graduate level ideas of Critical Race Theory. Enumclaw School District will not be teaching a course on Critical Race Theory nor will our courses be infused with CRT ideology.  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.  I want to share with you a section from one of the school improvement plans that I read in our last board meeting from Byron Kibler Elementary.   

“Educators within our building are working towards learning each student's “story”. Who are they? Where did they come from? What interests do they have? What is important to them? Who supports them at home? Are there aspects to their culture that are important to them? What traditions do they value? What are their goals for the future? What needs do they have to be successful? How does their culture/values impact their learning/world view? How do they learn? How do we know they have learned what they have been taught?”

Teachers and staff use this information to create an academic environment that supports the individual child - who they are and where they come from. This quote falls in line with our core district beliefs. Individual student cultures and values directly affect their learning. Discussing cultures, values, and historical events, does not equal Critical Race Theory. Culturally relevant teaching helps teachers and staff connect with their students and aids in their learning. It also provides an opportunity for students to feel seen and included by their peers. Outside of the classroom we are able to provide opportunities for our students with many clubs and activities.

Enumclaw School District is proud to offer students the opportunity to participate in a number of clubs and activities. Clubs are created by students.  Students then find a staff member to be their advisor.  You may not be aware, our High School has over 30 clubs. Clubs range from Robotics, Drama, Orchestra, Equestrian, FFA and Yearbook.  We now have a PRIDE Club. As a school board member and community member I want to let the LBGTQ students know that I support their club just like any other.  Our school district and student body supports them.  They have every right to have a PRIDE club that is recognized by this school district.  It is not a sex club.  It is a PRIDE club. If you have questions or want to support them, I am sure they would love your fellowship.  As a public school we will find ways to support and show love and compassion for all students. As a public school we don’t get to choose who or how students show up to our classrooms but our teachers and staff embrace each of our community's children.

I have been part of this community my whole life. Born and raised.  Byron Kibler Elementary, JJ Smith Elementary, Enumclaw Junior High and Enumclaw High School. I was at Kibler when the library wing was being built.  I sat on the floor in the hallways of the high school to eat lunch while the “new commons'' was being built. I played football at Pete’s pool when it was grass and when you stood on the sideline you were eye level with the players knees on the field.  For those who remember, you know what I am talking about. I love this community and I am intensely proud of it…

Sadly, our last board meeting put our community in the news in a negative way. Like many of you I was appalled at the racist word directed at our Superintendent.   I have had much reflection on those moments right after the event. I had an opportunity to do something and I didn’t… I FROZE...  I was in shock. My heart immediately went out to Dr. Carey, not knowing how he was feeling on the inside. I had the opportunity as a board member and a member of this community to stop Dr. Carey in his presentation and denounce racism. To tell him that what just happened was not a reflection of our community.   I have since apologized to Dr. Carey about not speaking up when I had the opportunity.  It was the fifth person in public comment at that meeting before someone apologized to Dr. Carey on behalf of the community and to you sir I thank you.  

For many would say this is an isolated incident.  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 School but in our middle schools.  Kids are navigating a complex world with the pandemic, back in full person school, the rigor of classroom work, finding who they are and what values do they stand for.  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. 

I do not serve on this board for any other reason than I love this community and it is where I choose to raise my family. I have no career political intentions.  I am invested and I care about our future. There is no room for racism or hate speech in our schools or our community.  We need to listen to our students and we have 2 student representatives on this board so they can share student voices in these board meetings. Kids in our community have a lot to say.  Yet the past few months our student reps have declined to come to board meetings because they felt unsafe at our own meetings.  Let me repeat that.  Our own student representatives who serve on this board have felt unsafe at their school board meetings.  We need to hear from them.  We need to acknowledge that the environment is making students feel unsafe.    

Enumclaw and Black Diamond are growing.  We have an opportunity to open our arms to new residents from various backgrounds into our community and what an opportunity we have before us.  

The reason you all are here is because you care about our kids - thank you. So, as we move forward into 2022 we need to keep the conversation and focus on our kids’ education and emotional / social needs.  Let’s focus on things we can control.   We have families and children struggling in our community.  Our teachers, bus drivers, food services team, para educators, counselors, nurses, office staff and many more see it every day and need your support. We have children where school is the only place they receive food.  School is the only place they receive love, acceptance and attention.  We as a community need to help each other.  We need to focus on what is important and that is our kids. We need to listen to our students. They are why we are here and they are our future. So as 2022 comes around I hope you will join me in working harder to be the I in Kindness for our kids.  Thank You.