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

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Randall B. Michaelis: Protect our kids by paying attention to school board elections

By Randall B. Michaelis

The self-inflicted calamity we are witnessing in the West Bonner County School District and North Idaho College is moving to a district near you, courtesy of ideologically driven school board members. Our school board elections have serious consequences, which is why it is essential that level-headed citizens pay attention to the hotly contested school board races in our area. If we don’t, we will see Spokane area districts take similar paths to a crisis.

The Mead School District is at a crossroads. It already has two far-right board members and two more running this year on similar platforms. One of these board members, Michael Cannon, took the district on a wild goose chase last year rooting out the evils of critical race theory. The most disturbing part is not that CRT had never been taught in Mead nor were there plans for it to be taught. No, the most concerning aspect is that the proposal was lifted almost verbatim from far-right state and national political groups who have set their sights on taking over the public schools.

The other far-right Mead board member, BrieAnne Gray, raised over $42,000 in a successful bid for a seat on the board. How do you spend that much on a school board race? Glad you asked. Almost $30,000 went to an Arizona political strategy group specializing in running ultra-conservative candidates. Who is really in charge of the Mead board?

If Mead voters are not paying attention, they will have four far-right board members who will follow an agenda to remove anything that doesn’t fit their very conservative worldview. The board member who brought the CRT proposal claims he was just listening to concerned parents. It is more accurate to say that he was not listening to the needs of the district, but rather listening to his own far-right political agenda.

Mead isn’t the only district at a crossroads. Almost every district in the area has far-right candidates running this year. Voters should examine candidate statements carefully for code words they often use. They claim they want to rid schools of “culture wars.” That is code for they want to change the culture of the schools so that they are the only voice. NIC and West Bonner are prime examples of how they will end “culture wars” through the oppression of dissenting opinions.

“Parental rights” is another one. That sounds great until one examines just how that is playing out across the country. Far-right groups like the Moms of Liberty are pressuring board members to enact policies where a book or curriculum item can be blocked by the complaint of a single parent. Even if it is later returned to the shelves, the sheer volume of complaints means it was essentially removed from circulation. Examples of offending titles: “Whacky Wednesday” by Dr. Seuss; “Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret” by Judy Blume; “The Paper Bag Princess” by Robert Munsch (“Love You Forever” author). And my favorite, “No, David!” by Spokane native David Shannon for showing a bare cartoon butt.

Watch for statements saying schools should only teach facts and not indoctrinate students. Of course, they would control which facts are taught. Florida just put forth new social studies standards containing the language, “slaves developed skills which, in some instances, could be applied for their personal benefit.” Imagine a history teacher trying to assess students with this standard. “Class, what are the ways that slaves personally benefited from being owned by white people? Anyone? Anyone?”

Watch out for a manufactured crisis intended to emotionally incite voters and deflect from real problems. Politicians excel at this, but the governor of Florida has perfected this technique. The standards in Florida schools never included teaching about gender identity or sexual orientation in elementary grades. But state legislators passed laws to stop such teaching anyway. Based on the publicity of this legislation, many parents wrongly assumed these topics were routinely taught in elementary schools.

Candidates will often tell us they want to bring “change.” But their statements give scant information on what they will bring to the board, and a lot on what they are against. Candidates with hidden agendas will not benefit Spokane area schools.

Change can be good, but if your district is running well and you have board members who understand their role as nonpartisan public servants, then now is not the time to gamble on the kinds of changes these far-right candidates will bring.

Watch carefully. We don’t need more ideology; we need levelheaded dedicated board members. Our kids have a lot to lose.

Randall B. Michaelis lives in the Mead School District. He retired in June 2022 as dean of the School of Continuing Studies and Graduate Admissions at Whitworth University, where he was on the faculty of the School of Education at Whitworth University. He also taught elementary school and has served on both state and district curriculum committees – mostly in math and technology.