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

Incumbent, teachers’ union voice concerns over Medical Lake School Board Election

The list of candidates running for school board seats this summer in Medical Lake’s primary election is the highest of any school district in Washington.

This year, the local teachers union has not yet endorsed any of the 17 primary contenders. The union faced trouble getting in touch with some of the candidates before the primary, said Medical Lake Education Association president Ryan Grant. After the primary, the union hopes to make endorsements prior to the general election.

“We reached out to as many as we could through email and phone,” Grant said. “Not all of them got back to us. Some didn’t even have contact information listed on the candidate website.”

Grant, an elementary school librarian, has lived in Medical Lake since 2001 and served as teachers union president since 2008. He said this is by far the most hotly contested school board primary he’s seen in that time.

“There were a lot of hard feelings over decisions that the previous superintendent made,” Grant said. “I think some of the candidates didn’t feel like they were being heard by previous administrations.”

There are four candidates vying for the position 3 seat on the board this year: one current board member and three political newcomers.

Incumbent Laura Parsons hopes to serve her second four-year term in the seat. Parsons was the only candidate in the race for position 3 who agreed to a Spokesman-Review reporter’s request for interview.

Agricultural fertilizer company superintendent Dennis Schilling declined to participate in an interview.

“I’m not too sure about an interview,” he said in a phone call. “I’m not too sure how to handle those. I think I’m actually going to pass.”

Insurance broker John Potter did not respond to a request for an interview.

Candidate John Stanley – who did not list his employment information on the state elections website – did not respond to a request for an interview.

Parsons, a part-time school bus driver with the Cheney School District, said she is running for re-election because she cares about education and considers herself the most qualified candidate for seat 3.

Before her election to the school board in 2019, Parsons served four terms on the Medical Lake City Council.

She said accomplishments from her first term on the board included helping to select new superintendent Kimberly Headrick, negotiating teachers union contracts and moving through the COVID pandemic without substantial drops in children’s test scores.

Parsons said concerns with the district’s previous superintendent – particularly when it came to transparency – may have inspired so many candidates to put their hats in the ring this election cycle.

School board meetings have been closed to public comment the past two years, Parsons said.

Incumbent Parsons said the new superintendent and board agreed to change that policy to set aside a block of time at the end of each school board meeting to allow for public comment.

Parsons said she finds some of the 16 other candidates in the primary “really concerning.”

“A lot of the folks running are Christian nationalists,” she said. “There’s a push from some of the folks who have come to our meetings in the past who haven’t thought that the school is teaching morals. They are against homosexuality. They are against some of the books in the library.”

The incumbent said she is passionate about keeping the schools in Medical Lake secular.

“Children are allowed to pray at school if they want,” she said. “But being forced to pray? Now that’s a problem. A good majority of our students are from the Air Force base, from all over the country with all different kinds of cultures and religions.”

Parsons said she differs from other primary candidates when it comes to vetting school library books. The only thing she said she cares about is that books are age-appropriate.

“People should have freedom of thought,” she said. “That’s how people learn. That’s how kids learn.”

Parsons also called for further support of children seeking gender-affirming care in the schools. Students who identify as trans at the high school have to use the teachers’ restroom, she said, adding that it could be uncomfortable for a child to have to ask to use a special bathroom.

“I support (LGBTQ) people,” she said. “They have a right to have a good, safe life just like everybody else.”

Teachers union president Ryan Grant was one notable financial donor to Parsons’ campaign for re-election. He said he found some other candidates’ suggestions that sex education should be entirely erased from the curriculum “concerning.”

“Parents already do have the right to opt out,” he said. “But denying that to all students and all families? That’s not fair to the kids who do need this education. That’s not fair.”

In his candidate statement, Dennis Schilling wrote he has lived in Medical Lake for 14 years. he called for parental rights and control over students’ education.

“I have watched the deterioration of our education in the country and have knowledge of problems within our own district,” he wrote, adding that he has a grandson in the Medical Lake school system. 

Candidate John Potter wrote in his statement that he has four children in the school district and married to a local educator. 

“We have the responsibility to make sure our educators are equipped with the proper tools and resources to make sure they are able to teach and work collaboratively with parents to ensure the greatest chance of success for each and every child in our district,” Potter wrote.

For the primary election, July 24 is the deadline to register to vote online. Aug. 1 is the deadline to register at the polls.

Primary election day is Aug. 1, and ballots are due in drop boxes at 8 p.m that day.