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Kevin Morrison resigns from board of Spokane Public Schools

UPDATED: Fri., July 10, 2020

Morrison  (Courtesy of Kevin Morrison)
Morrison (Courtesy of Kevin Morrison)

Less than a year after his election, Kevin Morrison has resigned from the board of directors of Spokane Public Schools.

Morrison, 63, submitted his resignation on the night of June 27, hours after taking part in a unanimous vote to appoint Adam Swinyard as the district’s superintendent. Board President Jerrall Haynes confirmed Morrison’s resignation on Wednesday.

“We definitely thank him for his service, not only as a board member but as an employee of our school district,” Haynes said. “We appreciate all of his hard work over the years.”

Morrison was elected to the school board in November after 16 years in the district’s administration, during which he managed capital bonds and served as director of community relations and communications. He retired from the administration last summer after a stint as interim director of safety, risk management and transportation.

He was expected to serve the remaining two years of a six-year term following the early departure of his predecessor.

In an interview Thursday, Morrison said he resigned primarily due to “unforeseen personal matters” but also expressed misgivings about the speedy process through which Swinyard was appointed superintendent.

The 37-year-old Swinyard was promoted to the position on a two-year contract just days after Superintendent Shelley Redinger – Morrison’s former boss – resigned to lead the Richland School District. Swinyard previously had been second in command to Redinger as Spokane Public Schools’ associate superintendent for teaching and learning.

Though he ultimately cast a vote for Swinyard’s appointment, Morrison indicated he would have preferred to conduct a broad search for Redinger’s replacement, vetting multiple candidates and choosing from a group of finalists – the typical process for filling such a position.

“I’ve been through three different searches in my 16 years with the district prior to coming on (the board), so I was well aware of what that entails,” Morrison said.

“It was a 5-0 vote to bring in Dr. Swinyard,” Morrison said. But he said the board would have benefited from “a much larger, collaborative viewpoint.”

“I think that the board is going to be best served at this time by someone who is maybe a complete outsider,” Morrison said, “and doesn’t come with preconceived experience or necessarily knowledge of how systems and process works, because that seems to fit the current board style and management.”

Morrison also has faced pressure to resign from the board over comments he made more than a year ago, when he was the district’s interim safety director.

In early 2019, a Ferris High School resource officer, Shawn Audie, sparked outrage when he was captured on video pressing his knee into the back of a Black student’s neck – a police tactic now banned in Spokane Public Schools and the same tactic that recently killed George Floyd in Minneapolis. Audie reportedly had been subduing the student to break up a fight that started over a pair of shoes.

Shortly after the incident, Morrison said he did not believe Audie’s use of force was “unreasonable” and also wrote a sympathetic email to Audie, dismissing those who criticized the officer and suggesting it was unfair to judge Audie’s actions based on images that were circulating online, the Inlander reported.

Audie resigned after the incident at Ferris. He previously had resigned from the Spokane County Sheriff’s Office while under investigation for use of excessive force, and had been named in three federal lawsuits, including a case in which a man died after Audie placed him in a chokehold.

Recently, some 1,500 people signed an online petition calling on Morrison to resign over his response to the incident at Ferris. Ileia Perry, the Spokane parent who started the petition, said Thursday she believes Morrison has displayed a “lack of good professional judgment, inability to accept responsibility for his own actions and enabling of criminal-like activity.”

Asked Thursday whether the petition had anything to do with his decision to step down, Morrison said, “Emphatically, no. It had nothing to do with that.”

Morrison said he wouldn’t recant any of his prior statements on the Ferris incident because he couldn’t put himself back in that moment in 2019 and couldn’t recall precisely what he knew at the time.

Regarding his email to Audie, Morrison said, “I think my sentiments were that it’s a tough job, and people don’t necessarily understand the role that each of us plays.”

Morrison added that Audie’s actions appeared to be within the district’s policy at the time. He declined to say whether he, personally, believes Audie’s actions were appropriate.

“It’s a difficult subject. It’s very complex,” Morrison said. Resource officers are the best people to keep schools safe, he said, “if we don’t have another system in place.”

Morrison last month voted, along with the other four school board members, in favor of a resolution promising work toward racial equity and a new campus safety strategy.

The board has until Sept. 25 to appoint a replacement for Morrison. That person’s term will run until an election is held in November 2021.

The district said it will share information about the application and interview process on July 17. Board members must be adult residents of the district and registered voters.

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