Teresa Landa’s path to a seat on the Central Valley School Board was undisputed through most of the sum.
No one announced a bid to oppose the longtime educator with deep roots in the Central Valley School District.
Not wishing to challenge an incumbent, Landa had bided her time until Tom Dingus decided not to seek reelection at District 2.
“I saw this as a personal challenge to provide some leadership,” Landa said.
Less than three weeks later, during a school board meeting on Aug. 23, things got personal for Bret Howell.
A single father with two sons, Howell was frustrated over the statewide mask mandate that he felt was overly restrictive for one of his two boys, who had suffered a traumatic head injury.
“They didn’t give us a lot of options,” said Howell, a mechanical engineer and CEO of Nexen Inc. in Spokane Valley. “I got frustrated, and I felt there has to be a way to accommodate this, where we can do this in a safe way.”
Despite several warnings, many attendees refused to wear masks, and the board canceled the meeting.
As Howell saw it, “the board walked out on myself and over 100 other parents and citizens that were there to speak.”
Howell, who describes himself as a constitutional conservative, said he was in “good company” that night, with other parents who share his views and experiences with the district.
“Faced with what appears to be no end to this madness, I decided to run for CVSD Position 2 as a write-in candidate,” Howell declares on his website.
But from Landa’s perspective, the madness is coming from those who disrespected the board – “the kind of behavior that you would not accept in a classroom,” she said.
Howell isn’t the only write-in candidate running for the Central Valley board. Another conservative opposing mask mandates, Pam Orebaugh, won the primary at Position 5, leading to a write-in campaign by another former Central Valley teacher, Stan Chalich.
That sets up two insider-vs.-outsider races against the backdrop of the tumultuous meeting on Aug. 23 and the filing of a recall petition recently against the three board members who aren’t up for re-election.
Both Howell and Landa are Spokane Valley natives.
Landa spent 26 years in the district as a teacher and administrator, serving at South Pines, McDonald, Opportunity, Liberty Lake and Sunrise elementary schools, and as the district’s K-12 director before moving on to become superintendent at the Newport School District.
“Central Valley has a very good reputation as a lighthouse district – smaller districts would look at CV at what’s going on there, because it’s a place that’s worth emulating,” Landa said.
Howell said that overall, the district “has done a fantastic job” and that his boys have enjoyed a good learning environment. He also believes that teachers should command higher salaries, “because they’re so important, and the way we get good ones is to offer a little more money.”
Landa said that since the pandemic began, the district has continued to make the right moves.
On masking, Landa said, “I think we need to follow the direction of the people who know, and that seems to be the people in the public health department. No one knows the complete answer, but what is the most probable way to fight it?”
Answering her own question, Landa recalled that polio was eradicated through vaccination.
“And now we don’t have it in our country,” she said.
For Howell, the issue of masks is personal. Howell, who is in the process of adopting two foster children who have special needs, said he received “no support or empathy” from the school or the district despite having written direction from his physician.
“The district refused to honor the doctor’s medical mask exemption and tried to force my son to wear the mask despite the fact that mask-wearing had repeatedly caused him debilitating, four-day-long migraine headaches,” Howell said.
The candidates disagree on two other hot-button issues, critical race theory and sex education.
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. Central Valley school officials stress that it isn’t a part of any district curricula.
Landa said critical race theory isn’t being taught in district schools, but that a critical examination of the nation’s history “can’t help but go along” with social science instruction.
“Why did we have slavery, and why were the Irish and other groups treated the way they were? It’s part of history,” Landa said.
On his website, Howell says he is “against both critical race theory and the State’s Sex Ed curriculum and I pledge to fight every day for our children and parents.”
On critical race theory, Howell said he worries about “little elements that creep in … because someone is white, that doesn’t mean they are racist.”
Howell said he opposes comprehensive sex education because “much of the content of this new proposed curriculum can be graphic and offensive and is not age appropriate for the children that may be subjected to it. “
Landa said the district needs to do a better job of communicating and being transparent on sex education and other curriculum.
She said the district “has a lot of latitude” in how sex ed is taught … but we do want kids to have accurate information.”
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