A political newcomer hopes to bring a “new voice” to the Mead School Board, but she faces a current board member and former board president who says the current leadership has guided the district well under difficult conditions.
The pandemic is playing a large role in the race.
Incumbent Carmen Green said the district must follow rules set by the state while also stressing that the current board reopened schools to in-person learning in September 2020, the largest district in the state to do so.
Her opponent, BrieAnne Gray, a nurse practitioner, says the district must do more to fight mask mandates imposed by the state.
As a mom of school-age children, Gray said she decided to run because none of the current board members have children in school.
“We’re facing some unprecedented challenges and discussions,” she said. “These decisions that this board (is) going to be making are going to have effects on all of our children.”
Green, however, said not currently having children in the school district offers its own perspective. She has friends and connections within the district. When she did have kids in school, she said she would focus so much on her own kids that she would often filter out everything other than their own experience.
“(Not having kids in the district) allows me to have a freedom of unfiltered response,” she said.
One of the biggest issues in education the last year-and-a-half was the COVID-19 pandemic. School boards across the country had to make decisions on keeping schools open, closing them down, dealing with online learning and requiring masks.
Green and the board members decided to open the school district back to in-person learning before most other schools in the state. They were the largest district in the state to do so, receiving some criticism for going against statewide recommendations.
The district had the staff and resources to do so, Green said.
“We were uniquely positioned to do that,” she said.
Gray said she was pleased when the district brought back elementary students, but parents were still upset with how long it took middle and high schoolers to get back into schools and get back to extracurricular activities.
As a nurse practitioner, she said she hears from kids who are struggling with anxiety and depression due to closed schools and paused extracurriculars. That needs to be addressed when making decisions for the district, Gray said.
She said she is also disappointed that for students who are quarantined, there are limited options for online instruction for them.
“That’s difficult for them to progress,” she said.
Green said the board decided not to provide a livestream of class to kids in quarantine because of the cost associated with it, which she acknowledged does make it harder for kids to stay up to date.
On vaccine and mask mandates, Gray said she thinks the decisions should be made locally. Because that is not always an option, she said the board should work together with other districts to stand up for what their communities want.
Green said a lot of the regulations are out of the board’s hands. She said she will not break the law, such as removing a mask mandate.
“We are doing the best we can given the current environment,” she said.
The American Academy of Pediatrics is among organizations that recommend that masks be required in schools.
The district is not expecting teaching shortages due to the vaccine mandate, Green said, but they are still waiting to see the effects.
Another topic up for debate is the curriculum.
Gray said board members need to take a better look at the curriculum schools are using, specifically when it comes to critical race theory and sexual health education as passed in Referendum 90 last year.
“The board is out of touch with what’s being taught and what’s not being taught in the classroom,” Gray said.
She said critical race theory is “a very, very big concern of the parents, the taxpayers, the grandparents.”
Critical race theory is an academic concept that looks at the nation’s history, society and laws and how it intersects with race and minority groups. The state Legislature passed a bill last session that requires schools to provide “equity training” to staff. Many conservatives took issue with the bill, saying it would force schools to embrace “critical race theory,” but the term does not appear anywhere in the bill.
Green, on the other hand, said before any curriculum is approved it goes out to the public for feedback. The district is not teaching critical race theory.
Gray also had concerns with a lack of transparency from the school board, especially when it comes to budget discussions. She said the community is still upset about the closure of M.E.A.D. and Riverpoint Academy in 2019 due to a $12 million budget deficit.
“Parents want honest answers and to be brought to the table when there is discussion,” she said.
Gray said the community knew that the 2018 budget was unsustainable. Had she been on the board, she said she would not have voted for it. She also said she would shift priorities in budgeting discussions to allow for new programs that fit the needs of the students, such as special education or gifted students.
Gray also pointed to her opponent’s Public Disclosure Commission records. Green faced one complaint for failing to report her campaign contributions in a timely manner.
Green said there was a problem on her end when submitting her campaign contribution reports, and many contributions from couples were not showing up in the reports she had to file with the PDC. She said she has since been able to get them all to upload and update the reports.
The problem stemmed from Green’s use of an older, unsupported version of MacOS, commission deputy director Kim Bradford wrote in an email. Her version of Mac was not fully compatible with the software needed to add contributions from couples.
Green said she has solutions to work around the problem with her computer and all contributions should now be accurate on the PDC site.
The Mead School Board officials also face a complaint for reposting a Facebook story from Green’s campaign page. The complaint includes a screenshot of the post where Green thanks people for putting up her campaign signs.
The complaint, filed by Danny Cole of Spokane, said the district “needs be held accountable for this gross misuse of taxpayers’ funds.” The complaint was filed Tuesday and is still under review.
Green said the post came from the secretary at the school district who had access to the district Facebook page but thought she was sharing it from her own personal account. It was up for about two hours, Green said.
“She didn’t realize,” Green said. “That was a mistake.”
Endorsements for Green include Mead High School Principal Jeff Naslund, former Mead School District Superintendent Tom Rockefeller and Mead School Board director Bob Olson. Endorsements for Gray include U.S. Rep Cathy McMorris Rodgers; state Sen. Mike Padden, R-Spokane Valley; and Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich.
Local journalism is essential.
Give directly to The Spokesman-Review's Northwest Passages community forums series -- which helps to offset the costs of several reporter and editor positions at the newspaper -- by using the easy options below. Gifts processed in this system are not tax deductible, but are predominately used to help meet the local financial requirements needed to receive national matching-grant funds.
Subscribe now to get breaking news alerts in your email inbox
Get breaking news delivered to your inbox as it happens.