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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Candidates for Deer Park School Board say they’re willing to go against state law

By Ignacio Cowles The Spokesman-Review

Five candidates are running for a seat on the Deer Park School Board, a sizable number for the growing district in northern Spokane County where seats sometimes struggle to receive multiple candidates.

Eric Keller, the incumbent, has only campaigned against one other candidate during his 16 years on the board.

An event hosting all five candidates was held on Wednesday at the Tri-County Christian Center. The center’s pastor, Tim White, acted as a moderator, posing questions and providing statistics. A number of topics came up during the two-hour discussion, including each candidate’s qualifications and availability, the district’s academic statistics, and state legislation – particularly on gender-affirming care.

The topic of finances, a large part of the school board’s duties, was absent from discussion, and time ran out before any community questions could be answered. Stances among candidates were similar, with all in favor of a generally conservative position.

As a final question, White presented the oath that school directors take when assuming office, which states, “When elected/appointed, directors shall take an oath or affirmation to support the Constitution of the United States and the state of Washington.”

“You swore an oath to support the constitution and the state of Washington, you didn’t swear an oath to obey the law,” White said.

Notably, every candidate was in favor of refusing to implement mandatory state policies if they considered it to be unconstitutional, with current legislation relating to gender-affirming care heavily referenced.

Keller, who has served in the Navy Reserve, suggested that refusing to implement a state law could be similar to refusing a military order.

“Is that order going to get somebody hurt?” he asked. “There are ways to refuse those orders.”

Candidate Richard Price went a step further, saying, “This isn’t a hypothetical, we are there now.”

He encouraged the school board in his final speech to band together with other districts to resist “radical social changes” within Washington schools.

Eric Keller

The incumbent has served on the board since 2007. He wanted to make a difference in his children’s education and said he is proud of his time on the board, including avoiding tax increases, the recent renovation of Deer Park Middle School and the hiring of the district’s new superintendent, Alexa Allman. He said his experience is important on the board, especially since there are three new members.

“It takes two or three years just to figure out how everything functions,” Keller said.

He said some new laws are not in tune with the opinions of many in the community, but added, “In the end, we have to follow the law, folks.”

He said that he is not against taking measures within the law to better meet public opinion. He discussed his interest in continuing education that he said keeps him focused. He said he is not interested in solely keeping his position, and welcomed whoever won the election wholeheartedly.

“I’ve always tried to keep myself sharp and keep my eye on the prize. The prize is not me on the board but providing the best direction for the district over time,” he said.

He said he’s focused on responding to the growth of the district and said the board needs leadership to better support the education of Deer Park’s students.

Meegan Ware

Ware, a school district volunteer who has children attending Deer Park schools, called for the district to implement new systems and resources that teachers can use to meet the needs of those who don’t learn best in a traditional setting, such as people who have attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, dyslexia or autism.

“I believe in small towns,” Ware said. “I believe in community. I believe in taking part in the education of our youth. I believe in the principles this country was founded on.”

She praised the current emphasis on trades education and seeks to increase the diversity in trades classes that are local and don’t require leaving the district to pursue. She said students had lost a year of learning through the pandemic, and believed the district deserved applause for the level of academic achievement despite online learning and disruptions, pledging to overcome that “COVID mess.”

She said she believes current Deer Park School District policies on gender inclusive care, in which students who don’t feel comfortable in their biologically assigned bathrooms use the bathroom in the nurse’s office instead, were sufficient and kept all students safe rather than making others uncomfortable. She, like every candidate, was not in favor of allowing transgender students to compete in sports other than those of their biological sex.

“I think that there’s been lot of stuff in the news that is starting to make our kids think things that they are not ready to think,” Ware said. “And as parents, we have to teach them what we believe.”

Richard Price

Price introduced himself to the forum as a Christian and a patriot. He described his main platform in a sentence: to protect the children. He criticized other candidates, who he said were less definitive in opposing what he described as radical social policies.

He said he believes the state Legislature overstepped its bounds in choosing the type of education mandated in schools, particularly on sexual education and gender-affirming care, which can run afoul of parents’ beliefs. He proposed that the district be more transparent about what is being taught related to gender or sex education, as well as avoiding having teachers “act like parents” in deciding what is proper for the child’s best interest.

He proposed eliminating male and female bathrooms and replacing them with single-occupant bathrooms. He called for the ability of parents to read school documentation on their children’s preferred gender and name, and having sex-ed videos taught in school that direct students to parents for further instruction rather than school employees.

“Some of these radical policies are evil. E-V-I-L. Evil. I would be a strong proponent of protecting the children. I think we can work within the existing policies by adopting new policies that moderate some of these existing mandated policies,” Price said.

Outside of social change, the former engineer is interested in increasing the district’s student capacity in response to Deer Park’s recent growth, and encouraging students to work on academic subjects over the summer to increase school academic rankings.

Shauneen Flugel

Flugel believes her strength is being “boots on the ground,” spending time day-to-day within the district as a parent and volunteer, which she said gives her insight to be used on the board.

“I’m not afraid of getting my hands dirty,” she said.

Similar to Ware, Flugel said she is worried about the success of students post-pandemic. She challenged the use of bare statistics to measure the district’s academic success, stating her belief that “I don’t feel this is the best way to judge the students and staff when everyone learns differently, and they’re all brilliant.”

Samantha Jordan

Jordan, a mom and real estate agent, said she would be a proponent for equal treatment of all students. She said the district should think “out of the box” to address what she described as security concerns from state legislation related to gender-affirming care.

Jordan endorsed the idea of eliminating female and male restrooms in favor of single-occupant bathrooms and changing rooms. She said she wants all students to be successful, regardless of their preferred style of learning, and to increase the number of resources available to meet those needs, citing her children as evidence of the need for variety.

Voting information

Ballots for the primary must be postmarked by Tuesday or be dropped off at an official election drop box before 8 p.m. that day.

None of the candidates has reported raising any money for their campaigns.

Two other seats on the Deer Park School Board will be on the ballot in the November election, with Gina Langbehn and Craig Phillips vying for District 1, and Gerry Ashby and Carri Breckner on the ballot for District 4.