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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Medical Lake School District voters preferred status quo in races that began with 17 candidates

Incumbent Medical Lake School Board member Laura Parsons, left, defeated Dennis Schilling in the November 2023 election for District 3.  (Courtesy photos)

Three incumbents and one political newcomer appear poised to win races for seats on the Medical Lake School Board if vote count standings hold.

The Medical Lake School Board election this year was the most crowded of any school district in Washington, with 17 candidates who ran in the primary back in August. The divisive race was plagued by debates over state-mandated school laws, such as the requirement to teach sexual health education and the requirement that schools respect children’s gender identities and sexual orientations.

Three of the candidates trailing in the races – all political newcomers – attend the same church and have been vocal about their opposition to state-mandated laws for schools, including the law that prevents Washington school districts from discriminating against children based on their gender identities or sexual orientations.

The outcome in Medical Lake differed from contentious races in the Mead School District, where conservatives swept three board races and will take a majority on the board. Three races for the Central Valley School Board with the board majority at stake remain too close to call.

In Washington, opponents to teachings about gender have taken to fighting for their beliefs in school board meetings, running in local elections and questioning teachers directly. Washington state has seen a “sustained” presence of the national culture wars, Crosscut reported earlier this year.

The local teacher’s union, the Medical Lake Education Association, endorsed the four candidates leading the race: Alexis Alexander, Ron Cooper, Gerri Johnson and Laura Parsons. Union president Ryan Grant said the vote count margins in all four races increased Wednesday, and that he believed “with pretty good confidence” that current election standings would hold, with about 800 ballots left to count in Medical Lake.

“It feels good. I appreciate that we had four competitive school board races out here – we had some really vibrant conversations,” Grant said. “But I think this will be a good group move to move Medical Lake forward.”

The four people elected to serve on the Medical Lake School Board will face challenges surrounding student enrollment and support in the aftermath of the devastating Gray and Oregon Road wildfires. Enrollment among Medical Lake students dropped by about 70 pupils since the Gray fire burned through much of the district in August, according to data provided by the local teachers union.

Medical Lake School Board election results

District 1: In this face-off between two political newcomers, voters heavily favored Gerri Johnson, who collected double the votes of her opponent, Lennelle Spillman.

Johnson and Spillman, who are members of the Redemption Church congregation, both graduated from Medical Lake High School. The opponents differed in their opinions on the separation of church and state, as suggested by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Johnson supports the constitutional guideline, while Spillman dislikes it.

The pair also disagreed on the state-mandated instruction of sexual education in public schools. Johnson supports the law, while Spillman believes it shouldn’t exist.

State law defines sex education for students in grades 4 through 12 as “recurring instruction in human development and reproduction that is medically accurate, age-appropriate and inclusive of all students.”

The candidate elected to represent District 1 will serve a two-year term on the Medical Lake School Board.

District 2: As of Wednesday night, incumbent Alexis Alexander held onto a slim 130-vote lead over challenger Michael Gerry.

Alexander, an engineer with Avista Utilities, was appointed to represent District 2 on the school board in 2019. A graduate of Medical Lake High School, Alexander said he ran to give back to a school district that gave so much to him.

“I have spent the majority of my life in Medical Lake. It is the place I call home and refer to many of the community members as family,” Alexander wrote in his campaign statement.

Gerry, a fitness coach, has not held an elected office before. He has previous experience working as a volunteer firefighter in the cities of Medical Lake and Spokane, according to the Spokane County candidate guide. In his campaign statement, Gerry wrote he is running because the school board “needs new voices and accountability.”

The candidate elected to represent District 2 will serve a four-year term on the Medical Lake School Board.

District 3: Incumbent Laura Parsons collected 53.3% of the votes counted by Wednesday night, followed by political newcomer Dennis Schilling, who trailed behind with 45.8% of the vote so far.

Parsons and Schilling disagreed over the role the school district ought to play in children’s social and emotional well-being. The pair also differed on the efficacy of an education program called Social Emotional Learning. The program, overseen by the state Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction, is designed to provide a roadmap for educators to look out for students who may be struggling with their mental health

In a phone interview Wednesday, Parsons said she appreciated everyone who showed up to vote in an off-year election.

“I’m happy with the result,” Parsons said. “Hopefully they don’t change. I’m glad for our community that they’re going to have a good, stable school district that will be in the best interest of the children and not just a group of people who think they know what everybody else wants.”

Schilling said Wednesday he isn’t anxious about the results of the election.

“To my knowledge, it looks like there’s still counting to be done,” Schilling said. “I’m kind of at peace either way it goes. There’s still maybe a chance that things will turn around for me. I believe elections are in God’s hands.”

The candidate elected to represent District 3 will serve a four-year term on the Medical Lake School Board.

District 4: The most tenured person on the Medical Lake School Board held onto a lead in his race Wednesday with Mark Hudson, a political newcomer and pastor.

Ron Cooper received 56% of the vote, while challenger Mark Hudson brought in 43.1%. If Cooper’s lead holds, he will serve his fifth consecutive term on the school board.

Cooper and Hudson differed on a number of issues, including test scores. In his candidate statement, Hudson called for higher test scores in Medical Lake.

Data from 2023 also showed Medical Lake students excelled beyond that statewide average in all three standardized test categories.

Cooper believed Medical Lake did well to keep standardized test scores up through the COVID-19 pandemic when compared with other districts in the area, adding schools across the country and world got hit hard by learning loss.

The candidate elected to represent District 3 will serve a four-year term on the Medical Lake School Board.