Arrow-right Camera
The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

East Valley School Board candidates share stance on pandemic response

By Shafiq Moltafet The Spokesman-Review

Two parents with children in East Valley schools face each other in the November election for a seat on the school board.

Incumbent board member Justin Voelker and challenger Carolyn Petersen agree with the district’s current protections to keep students in school while slowing the spread of COVID-19. East Valley schools are in-person and following state mask mandates while indoors.

Voelker, who works as a chief financial officer at Multicare Valley Hospital, said the district is staying cautious and firm on following the health care authority guidelines regarding COVID-19.

“The delta variant has added another twist to this pandemic when we thought we were almost over it,” Voelker said. “I know that the students and families are frustrated with the situation, but I’ve been very impressed with how our whole community has been pulling together.”

Peterson advocated for fewer pandemic restrictions when she was running in the primary, but says her position changed after the delta variant slammed the Inland Northwest starting later in the summer.

“I think lowering restrictions would be irresponsible right now,” she said in an email. “Back when I first said that, I was looking forward and hopeful that with the vaccination so easily available, vaccination rates would be higher, therefore allowing restrictions to be able to be lowered. It hasn’t turned out that way and with a new aggressive strain of COVID, I believe that the correct response is happening from the district and schools.”

She added that the key is working hard to keep students in school and able to participate in activities.

Voelker said he also will work to maintain East Valley’s strong financial position and carry on the enhancement of academic performance.

“Our community is poised for growth, and I look forward to helping our school district continue to grow and help students reach their full potential,” Voelker said.

He said he hopes to keep local property taxes relatively flat just as he and the rest of the board have done the past eight years.

Petersen has been involved in the district since she moved in 2017. Being a part of the Parent Teacher Organization and Trentwood Elementary’s principal hiring committee, Peterson said she enjoyed the process of communicating with teachers and being involved in local schools.

Peterson has five children attending East Valley schools and said she would like to see the schools remodeled.

Once one of the district’s current tax levies expire, Peterson said the district should pursue a levy to remodel aging schools.

She noted that East Valley High School was built in 1960 and modernized in 1989. The middle school was built in 1968 and added on to in the 1990s.

Trentwood Elementary was built in 1962 and modernized more than 30 years ago.

Aside from modernizing schools, Peterson said she also wants to make sure the district properly updates its sex education curriculum as required by the state.

Last year, the Washington Legislature required all public schools to provide comprehensive sex education by the 2022-23 school year with some requirements beginning in the 2020-21 school year. The mandate requires public schools to offer families the option of an age-appropriate curriculum focused on issues including human development and consent.

Peterson said she hopes to be a part of the discussion when the curriculum rolls around during the 2022-23 school year.

Voelker received the most votes in the August primary with 45% of the votes. Petersen advanced to the general election with 30% of the votes. Candidate Emelie Braxton lost in the primary. She received about 24% of the votes.