Voters in the Central Valley School District will choose among three first-time candidates opposed to mask mandates in a race for school board on the Aug. 3 primary ballot.
Jared Von Tobel, Pam Orebaugh and Rob Linebarger are opposed to both mask and vaccination mandates. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s most recent recommendations for schools call for universal masking inside at schools.
Von Tobel began attending school board meetings during the 2020-21 school year to take note of the board’s COVID-19 response. He noticed that some board members did not speak up much, and decided to run. He is determined to raise science test scores in the district.
“Our district has struggled in the past two years with our science scores. I have some ideas. I want to help lead the charge to see if we can’t get them up.” He is also an advocate for extracurricular activities at the high school, and said that clubs and sports are significant because they can motivate a child to graduate.
Like Von Tobel, Orebaugh said her decision to run for school board was prompted in part by the district’s focus on COVID-19. She also said schools shifted focus from providing high-quality education to social issues and what she called “indoctrination.” Orebaugh also cites the significance of the district and parents “working together as a team.”
Linebarger falsely claims that COVID-19 is a “big phony hoax.” He said he is running for the school board because he wanted to make sure the position wasn’t hand-picked by the “status quo” or teacher’s union. He said he has followed politics since the 1980s and claims to have noticed a “steady creep of Marxism” in society. Linebarger said he aims to be a voice of transparency. If elected, Linebarger said he will voice the concerns of the parents who elected him.
Both Orebaugh and Von Tobel admired the Mead District’s early transition to in-person learning.
Von Tobel was initially “pretty disappointed” with the district’s COVID response for not starting full-time, in-person learning sooner. He understands, however, that the district was prepared to increase in-person learning before then-Spokane County Health Officer Dr. Bob Lutz suggested districts take a more cautious approach. He added that the “teaching wasn’t good either.” He watched his daughter learn Advanced Placement calculus digitally at twice the pace of in-person learning, which was “really hard for us as parents to watch.” Von Tobel said he believes that wearing a mask and getting vaccinated are personal decisions.
Orebaugh was “very disappointed” with the district’s COVID response. Orebaugh is strongly against vaccine and mask mandates, as she said she believes kids don’t wear their masks properly, and aren’t largely impacted by the virus. While a significant majority of people who have been hospitalized or have died from COVID-19 are adults, the CDC notes that children can become seriously ill. They also can transmit it even if they show no symptoms.
Linebarger was frustrated with the initial shutdown in March 2020. He said he wants the government to stop issuing rules about COVID-19 to restore peoples’ rights.
He said that the government claiming its needed two weeks to flatten the curve, and “wear your mask to get your rights back” were “promises they never intended to keep.” From digital learning, he learned that students have fallen behind and it will be difficult for them to keep up. He is “unequivocally against” vaccine and mask mandates.
At least two of the candidates say critical race theory is being taught in Central Valley classrooms, though the district says that is untrue.
“CVSD does not currently teach, nor does the district have any plans to teach critical race theory in our schools,” Central Valley says on its website.
Critical race theory is a concept that race is a social construct, and that racism is not only the result of individual bias or prejudice, but also something embedded in legal systems and policies. The theory is mostly one taught on the college level.
The Washington Legislature passed a bill this year requiring school districts to provide “equity training” to staff members.
Von Tobel said, “I don’t believe critical race theory is being presented at the district level.” However, he said that a “very small” amount of teachers may be presenting it in their classrooms, without permission from the district. Von Tobel said the district will have to follow state law, but must make sure policy keeps community values in line.
Orebaugh said she believes some teachers are presenting critical race theory but it isn’t in the district’s curriculum. She said, “I’ve talked to parents and even my own kids, and there isn’t racism in our schools.” Orebaugh is in favor of teaching the history of slavery in the United States, not critical race theory. She disagrees with Central Valley’s statement that there is systemic racism in its schools. She said that the best way to avoid discrimination in schools is to set district policies that “everyone is aware of.”
Systemic racism is bias fostered and perpetuated by a system of power.
Linebarger said he believes critical race theory is “wedged” into the Central Valley curriculum. He said critical race theory is racist against white people.
“There should be no racism taught in the school at all. I believe it is in the curriculum but the district denies that it is in the curriculum.”
Linebarger said the district should teach American history that includes history about slavery. He said he recognizes that America was, at one point, a nation of slavery, but he added that schools should focus on slavery that exists today, particularly in China. He added, “Most reasonable people in today’s society would never condone slavery but there’s nothing wrong with knowing its history.”
A law approved by the Legislature in 2020 requires all Washington public schools to provide comprehensive sexual education by the 2022-23 school year with some requirements beginning in the 2020-21 school year.
Von Tobel met with Associate Superintendent Tim Nootenboom earlier in July, regarding the bill.
“Bottom line is the district plans to meet the bare minimum requirements of the law while keeping our overall community values in mind. I felt good about this process after meeting with Tim,” Von Tobel said.
He said Nootenboom told him the district will start a committee to identify what changes and updates need to be made to the curriculum to meet the minimum requirements of the law.
Orebaugh believes the best way to implement the curriculum is with parent involvement.
“The district needs to be transparent with parents,” Orebaugh said. “Parents need to be notified of when it (sex education) will be taught so they can opt out if they desire.”
She also hopes teachers will receive training from mental health professionals because such topics can be difficult for victims of sexual abuse.
Linebarger believes the bill must be implemented locally. He said the local district should develop its curriculum because he doesn’t anticipate the community being in favor of the state’s proposed sex-ed curriculum.
Central Valley voters approved a three-year, $95.3 million levy earlier this year with a 53.6% support, significantly lower passage than in 2018. The tax per $1,000 of property value is $2.40 .
Von Tobel said he previously supported the district’s levy requests, but opposed it this year because the district should have delayed the request a year while families struggled in the fallout from the pandemic . He said he would not be in support of increasing the levy ask in the coming years unless there was a “glaring need” and the community was in support.
The last levy was the first one Orebaugh did not support, she said. Although she believes teachers should be paid well, she said the reason for the recent higher levy was because teachers wanted a raise.
“In reality, they (the union) were asking taxpayers to fund this crazy raise instead of funding programs that parents were in favor of,” she said.
Linebarger believes the district has “enough money to operate” without increasing the levy ask.
He said, “At some point enough is enough. I’ve read that CV spends $18,000 per student. Are we seeing $18,000 of value?” U.S. News & World Report says, “Central Valley School District spends $19,156 per student each year.”
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