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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Two Medical Lake School Board candidates differ on books, trans youth rights

Two of the candidates running for seat 4 on the Medical Lake School Board differ on whether schools should support students who seek gender-affirming care and what books should be allowed in school libraries.

Incumbent Ron Cooper is running for his fifth consecutive term on the city’s school board. Cooper was appointed to the position in 2006 before he was elected for his first full term in seat 4. He said he is running to keep the seat to advocate for students in the schools – including his grandchildren – and to give back to the community.

“Being the longest person that’s serving right now on our board, I’ve had the opportunity to serve with a lot of really neat people that have kind of mentored me, shown me how things are running.”

Cooper, a longtime sports scoreboard operator with the district, said he is proud of his work on the board to maintain a strong fund balance through hurdles such as the recession and a global pandemic. He also pointed to strong graduation rates – upwards of 90% over the last 10 years, he reported.

Political newcomer Nick Hawkins said he put his hat in the ring because he is a strong supporter of public schools and concerns with his children’s education.

“There’s a way in which we have to address pluralism in our society,” Hawkins said. “We’re not there. We’ve swung totally on the other side and we’re actually discriminating against the vast majority of Orthodox Jews, Orthodox Muslims, Orthodox Christians. Why do we do that in a school when we really need to focus on getting our next generation trained for the jobs of tomorrow?”

Hawkins, a local pastor, said he does not believe students who identify as trans should be allowed to use bathrooms and locker rooms that correspond with their gender identity. He said if an LGBTQ+ support group is allowed to make an announcement on the school’s intercom system each week, so should a Bible club.

“Perhaps the Bible club needs to take place off campus as well as LGBTQ+ support,” he said, “as well as some of the other groups that just are actually in alignment with actually getting kids through reading, writing, arithmetic, science.”

In contrast, Cooper said he believes the school district is obligated to support students in the LGBTQ+ community.

“I don’t think we really have a choice,” Cooper said. “The state says we have to make some type of accommodation. Some people I know disagree with that. But that’s what we need to do.”

In Washington, gender identity and sexual orientation are protected under the state’s nondiscrimination law.

Under state law, students in public schools have the right to use restrooms and locker rooms that correspond with their gender identity, according to the state Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction.

Cooper and Hawkins also disagreed on what books are appropriate for school libraries.

Hawkins said the school library is not the place for books that “incite belief-system battles,” adding that there is a public library right down the street.

“Why are people calling for bans of books? They see certain books as pornography. They see certain books as grooming. They see certain books as a threat to their faith,” Hawkins said. “So their religious liberties are at stake.”

Cooper said he is “not a big fan of censorship.”

“Medical Lake Public Schools is not a private school,” he said. “We should be able to educate our students.”

Both Cooper and Hawkins agreed that teachers should not carry guns in schools, a topic other school board candidates have differed on in the school board primaries.

The candidate elected for position 4 will serve a four-year term on the Medical Lake School Board.

For the primary election, 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.