Extra: Musings on the CVSD School Board Election

A Calm, Reasoned Voice in an School Board Electoral Storm

This is worth sharing. The letter was sent to me from several friends on the same day.

Musings on the CVSD School Board Election

Anny Case – October 20, 2023

Remember what our community was like before COVID? We loved our schools; in fact, many of you purchased your homes because you wanted your children to attend CVSD schools. Remember watching your children shine in the marching band? Tirelessly rehearse for a school musical? Remember your little ones over-the-moon excited for a field trip, a class party, or a science project?

As an education professor, I had heard about Central Valley School District’s reputation for academic quality, excellent teaching, and a strong, supportive community. But it wasn’t until my niece came to live with us her senior year and attended CVHS that I realized how special CVSD really is. The school administration, staff, and teachers welcomed us with open arms. We discovered high standards coupled with appropriate flexibility and expansive curricular and extracurricular opportunities. While finishing high school, my niece got licensed as an EMT after taking classes at  Spokane Valley Tech,  and her participation in CVHS’ school musical literally changed her life. Of course, our schools have never been perfect — problems abound in any public school system. But they were — and still are — pretty amazing.

Then  COVID and the culture wars came to town. Acrimony replaced compromise. Fear snuffed out optimism. Misinformation from all sides flooded in. Individually and collectively, we went through the wringer.  (Oh yeah — and the controversy over comprehensive sex education. Who could forget that?)

We are now at another crossroads.  We have, I believe,  six genuinely good people running for the Central Valley School Board. I am convinced that each one cares deeply about education, our children, and our community. Each one has a track record of unselfish service. In this way, we’re very fortunate.

It’s good to have fresh ideas and turnover in public service and I admire Barker, Brooks, and Jerdon for answering the call from their people to enter the race. I also admire Clark, Long, and McMullen for staying engaged — I wouldn’t have blamed them a bit for stepping down after enduring several of the most difficult years in education. People I know and love — and whom I will continue to love and respect — have lined up on both sides.

After studying, observing, discussing, and discerning, I am in strong support of Clark, Long, and McMullen. Here’s why.  I would like school boards to remain the last bastion of political civility, consensus, and compromise — an institution where community members of a variety of persuasions can come together, wrestle with challenges, and practice tolerance. Groups supporting Barker, Brooks, and Jerdon, however, have a very different vision. “Citizens for CVSD Transparency,’’ the organization affiliated with Barker, Brooks, and Jerdon,  is comprised of  a small group of passionate, well-intended individuals who were highly distraught by COVID, scared about exaggerated threats to their children’s safety and well-being, and fed by right-wing media’s relentless obsession with “woke agendas.” During COVID, they were angry about mask and vaccine mandates. In 2021, Rob Linebarger, who shows up on public disclosure documents as a regular contributor to Citizens for CVSD Transparency, went so far as to file a legal petition to recall Clark, Long, and McMullen. Based on frivolous claims, the suit was thrown out of court and he was sanctioned — but only after the district spent tens of thousands of dollars to set the record straight. The stated goal of Citizens for CVSD Transparency was to “elect new school board members to replace current members opposed to our values.” And here we are.

Although the school board technically is — and should remain — non-partisan, it’s interesting to consider how official endorsements have lined up. Republicans of Spokane County (the mainstream Republican group that broke off from the Spokane County Republican Party when it was taken over by ultraconservative Republicans), local leaders,  including Mary Kuney and  our past and current county sheriffs, Ozzie Knezovich and John Nowels, as well as the 4th district Democrats, and Cris Kaminskas (Liberty Lake Mayor) all support Clark, Long, and McMullen. The organizations for educators and staff representing CVSD employees endorse them, as do past CVSD superintendents. In other words, people who have a long history working with the current school board advocate for them staying on another term — not because they agree with every position the board has taken, but because they know they can work with them. They also recognize how Barker, Brooks, and Jerdon sometimes misrepresent and oversimplify how the school board operates, how school budgets work,  the role of parental involvement, and the process for policy setting. They also know that CVSD is made up of thousands of families with many different opinions on hot button issues. The ability and desire for peacemaking is paramount.

On the other side, Barker, Brooks, and Jerdon are endorsed by Citizens for CVSD Transparency, the Spokane County GOP and the Family Policy Institute of Washington. While these groups may share some values with the larger CVSD community around safeguarding children and maintaining parental influence in schools, they also represent some extreme positions and individuals that concern me. For example, the Family Policy Institute has direct connections to Matt Shea, a local politician and pastor who was expelled from the Republican Party for his link to domestic terrorism. On his own re-election website, it states “Matt Shea was the co-founder of the Washington Family Foundation, which later merged with the Family Policy Institute of Washington.” Moreover, when she was in the midst of her sex ed campaign, Barker was a guest on Matt Shea’s podcast and spoke at a gathering hosted by him where Shea introduced her as a “great patriot and a good friend.” Strangely, Barker put out a video denying any connection to Matt Shea. Perhaps she didn’t fully realize who he was and what he stands for. If so, she should explain that.

I am very confident that Barker, Brooks, and Jerdon would vigorously advocate for like minded families. However, given the company they have kept and things I heard them say at the League of Women Voters candidate forum, I am worried about tactics they might use. ( I don’t, however, think they would espouse violence and I doubt Brooks’ unwise statement about “civil war” was intended to be taken literally.) While I admire and respect Barker’s tireless advocacy to adopt sex ed policy and curriculum consistent with values and preferences held by herself and others, I was dismayed at the exaggeration, fear mongering, and inaccuracies swirling through that campaign. I’m also concerned that they speak about  “what parents want” as though “parents” in our community are one, unified group. I wonder if they would be willing to negotiate and compromise when one group of parents, for example, may want  comprehensive sex education (and there are many who do) and another parental group is adamantly opposed. They’re all parents who love their children! But instead of recognizing this reality, I feel that Barker, Brooks, and Jerdon have set up a false conflict between “parents” (meaning them and their allies) and the school board (because the board has a history of trying to build consensus among diverse swaths of the CVSD community).  

In short,  in the face of hotly contested opinions among good people, I strongly believe in the principle of “moderate and unify.”  I have seen Clark, Long, and McMullen do so repeatedly. It’s already hard enough to lead a public school system, teach and work in a school, and be a student in today’s complex and contentious world. It doesn’t seem wise to replace three members of the board (who represent different strands in  our community) with a block of three new, inexperienced directors (who represent one segment of our community and who have shared histories with groups and individuals further to the right than mainstream Republicans). Moreover,  if we learn from other communities who have tried similar experiments, it could lead to chaos and conflict and push out good, competent people working in the district.