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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

State school group pleads for public civility in the face of ‘aggressive, abusive’ behavior over COVID-19 rules

The Spokane School Board packs up their computers as they move their School Board meeting to a Zoom call after attendees refused to wear facial coverings on Wednesday, Aug. 25, 2021, at the Spokane Public Schools offices in Spokane, Wash.  (Tyler Tjomsland/The Spokesman-Review)

Reacting to dozens of incidents in the past few weeks, groups representing the state’s administrators and school boards lamented the “erosion of civility in many communities” during public meetings.

“It is imperative that the adults in our communities model the kind of behavior we ask of our students,” the Washington Association of School Administrators and the Washington State School Directors’ Association said in a statement issued Thursday.

“Right now, this is not happening in a consistent fashion across our state,” said Joel Aune, WASA executive director.

Reflecting tensions over mask mandates and other issues, several of those incidents occurred in Eastern Washington. On Aug. 26, a meeting of the Spokane Public Schools board lasted one minute before going to Zoom after several attendees refused to wear masks.

The same thing happened two days earlier in Nine Mile Falls, with maskless protesters taking over the director’s seats after the latter departed.

The biggest incident occurred at Central Valley on Aug. 23, when more than 100 anti-mandate protesters refused to wear masks.

Pledged to follow Gov. Jay Inslee’s mask mandate for public gatherings, the board finally adjourned the meeting after their warnings went unheeded.

In his statement, Aune said that “School superintendents and board members are doing their best to safely operate schools for in-person learning, and serve students based on the guidance of health policy experts and requirements set forth by the state.”

“Unfortunately, many individuals in the community are politicizing the state requirements – which fall outside of local control – to the point where the act of simply holding a public meeting to conduct district business draws threats of violence, verbal abuse, aggression, and intimidation,” he said.

Officials at WSSDA were unable to provide numbers on how many board members have recently resigned or opted not to file for reelection.

Tim Garchow, executive director for WSSDA, said, “It is important for families and community members to share their concerns with their school district. It is important for families to have their voices heard.”

“However, it is equally important to do so in a way that sets an example for students of how to advocate in a civil and respectful manner,” Garchow said.

“Aggressive, abusive, or hostile language and behavior do not demonstrate a desire to do what is best for children,” he added.