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

3 newcomers running for a seat on the West Valley School Board

With no incumbent, three newcomers face off in the West Valley School Board primary: educator Amy Anselmo, mental health advocate S. John Dubois and home-schooler Tricia Phillips. Each offers varying positions topics of supporting students’ mental health struggles, the district’s role in sex education and addressing school shootings.

Mental Health Support

In April, the surgeon general released an advisory naming pandemic-era isolation and excessive social media use among the factors contributing to a declining state of mental health among youth. The advisory cited national surveys that found a 36% increase in high schoolers seriously considering suicide from 2009 to 2019 and a 44% increase in students saying they had a suicide plan.

Phillips suggested offering more clubs and activities to students during the school day, “free time” so they can pursue their own interests or get involved with extracurriculars. This time could also be used for support groups for students struggling with mental illness or staff-facilitated conversations on mental health to normalize asking for help.

“If they know more about (mental illness) then it becomes less stigmatized because we’re talking about it instead of pretending it doesn’t exist,” Phillips said.

As a teacher, Anselmo said she witnesses first hand the pressures on students as a result of social media and cellphone use. While she feels it’s a more societal problem needing more than a school board’s fix, she also proposed offering more outlets for student involvement via clubs or sports while also reducing parent’s financial burden in their child’s participation.

Given his background in behavioral health outreach at the crisis line, Dubois said mental health support is among his chief concerns motivating his candidacy. Dubois said he wants more education for staff preparing them for mental health emergencies in students, as well as guidance on how to identify warning signs so that students get help before they’re in crisis.

“There’s far less that we can do if (students) are breaking things, losing their temper, they can’t manage the feelings that they’re having,” Dubois said. “It’s a lot easier to intercept and teach them skills before it gets to where all we can do is maintain that they don’t destroy themselves and others.”

Sex Education

Current sex education curriculum is required by the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction to meet statewide standards of age-appropriate, inclusive and comprehensive education based on science and medicine. The standards include lessons on human development, pregnancy, prevention of sexually transmitted infections, affirmative consent and healthy interpersonal relationships.

Each candidate’s views differ on how sex education should look in West Valley and who should oversee this education.

Phillips advocates for “children’s rights” when it comes to sex education. Rather than a standardized curriculum that parents can opt their child out of, she said once a student turns 15, they should be able to customize a learning plan with the type of information they want to be taught, if any. Schools’ role is providing optional resources for students or offering alternate routes for sex education, like from a doctor or in an independent setting. If a teenager wants sex education on a topic, she said their parents shouldn’t be able to stop them.

“We’re so invested in protecting our children that we’ve gone too hard in the other direction and we’re often protecting them in ways that are not very safe for them,” Phillips said.

Dubois’ said sex education should include more parental involvement. He proposed a system in which schools supply families with resources and parents teach their child sex education the way they see fit. The resources would emphasize why sex education is important, stressing to families that if they don’t educate their kids, they’re vulnerable to misinformation. He cautioned that schools shouldn’t overstep the wishes of families in this regard.

Physical changes and bodily functions, Anselmo said, need to be taught in schools, but she said parents need to play a more active role in their child’s education in this regard. She recognizes sex education curriculum can’t please everyone, so she encourages dissatisfied parents to participate in their child’s education by opting them out or voicing concerns with the district.

“If you’re not happy with what’s being taught, you need to advocate for your child,” she said. “You need to show up to the board meetings, you need to write letters.”

School Safety

Candidates differ significantly on law enforcement’s role on school campuses and defenses against school shootings.

Phillips said she doesn’t support a law enforcement presence in schools and feels an officer would intimidate the students rather than make them feel safer. To address gun violence in schools, Phillips said teachers should be permitted to conceal carry firearms. Accompanying this allowance, she said, would be gun safety and de-escalation training.

Anselmo supports a trained person carrying a firearm on school campuses, ideally a law enforcement officer or retired officer stationed at each school. She’s not in favor of arming teachers, who she fears may react impulsively or emotionally given a tense situation or perceived threat.

“I would feel safer knowing that we have an armed guard or a retired police officer,” Anselmo said. “Somebody who’s got some skills and know-how that would be there.”

Dubois said he supported an armed presence in schools to deter violence, but he had other ideas to address school shootings. Prompted by his psychology background, Dubois said he was in favor of allocating funds to train school staff and communities on the warning signs in students that could lead to an active shooting.

“We should provide resources and supports so that (students) have other outlets so it doesn’t require an explosion over here to say I had a problem, nobody could hear me, I don’t know how to interact with this, so goodbye world,” he said.

The other seat on the West Valley board up for grabs this election cycle has one candidate running, incumbent Adam Mortensen, who has advanced automatically to the general election.

For the primary election, the deadline to register to vote online is July 24. Aug. 1 is the deadline for in-person registry. Election day is Aug. 1, and ballots must be in drop boxes by 8 p.m.