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News >  K-12 education

Amid FBI inquiry, mosts speaking at Spokane School Board meeting praise district for handling of safety issues

UPDATED: Thu., March 24, 2022

While Spokane Public Schools' policy on student safety and reporting incidents to law enforcement has drawn FBI scrutiny, parents largely lauded the district's approach at a regularly scheduled board meeting Wednesday night.   (JESSE TINSLEY/The Spokesman-Review)
While Spokane Public Schools' policy on student safety and reporting incidents to law enforcement has drawn FBI scrutiny, parents largely lauded the district's approach at a regularly scheduled board meeting Wednesday night.  (JESSE TINSLEY/The Spokesman-Review)

Spokane Public Schools is facing an FBI investigation over security protocols, but it received mostly favorable comments Wednesday night for its handling of students’ social and academic welfare.

During a board meeting – the first since last summer with masks optional – staff presented an update of its school safety and services plan.

The PowerPoint presentation reviewed the district’s multiple tiered system of support, its procedure for handling behavioral and academic issues.

The review also covered the district’s approach “in response to parenting plans, custody, information sharing, mental health, discipline and harassment, intimidation and bullying.”

The district noted that fewer students have faced “exclusion” – that is, expulsion or suspension for one day or more.

As the district has emphasized “restorative justice” in dealing with some behavioral issues, it’s unclear whether the district has changed the parameters for deciding what level of behavior merits exclusion.

The district pointed to its annual Panorama survey taken last October, which showed that students’ perception of overall safety has increased slightly this year.

“It’s important to listen to our kids,” Superintendent Adam Swinyard said.

All five board members praised the district’s efforts on school safety.

“We all agree that there is so much more work to be done and pairing it with our equity work, creating positive school environments,” board member Jenny Slagle said.

The presentation was made one week after Christian Parker, the FBI’s supervisory special agent in Spokane, sent an email to district building principals that the agency had received allegations of criminal activity occurring in Spokane schools, including “assaults, sexual assaults, threats of violence and drug use.”

The email from Parker referenced concerns by Spokane Police Chief Craig Meidl over whether district are “being permitted to exercise their professional judgment and comply with their mandatory reporting obligations” as they determine whether to contact law enforcement about potential crimes and safety concerns.

The pending investigation wasn’t brought up by board members of staff. It evoked some criticism, but mostly praise, for the district’s overall approach.

Wendy Cossette said she believes that student violence is escalating and is “very concerning.”

Referencing the FBI investigation, Cossette said that “it’s hard to believe that if there’s some smoke, that there isn’t fire.”

Russell Neff echoed that comment, stating that the FBI doesn’t get involved unless “there’s something to look at.”

“It appears as though the board is not putting the safety and security of students and staff in a posture of excellence. It appears the school board is putting staff in an uncomfortable position to not report crimes that include theft, drugs and violence,” Neff said.

Most comments, however, praised the district.

Amy McColm praised the board for being “supportive of restorative practices” and praised the district for “sticking to the research.”

She also characterized Meidl’s letter as “blatantly political.”

Molly Merkle, a mother of two students, one with a disability, said she worried about Meidl’s letter because disabled students are “most likely to come into contact with law enforcement.”

Katie Sutch, a parent advocate with Arc of Spokane, said the district needs to do a better job of reducing disproportionality – that is, higher rates of exclusion of students of color, those with disabilities and other groups.

Sutch also charged that Spokane Police Department has a long history of “pointed discrimination” toward marginalized groups.

“The police department has no business being in our schools,” Sutch said.

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