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School Board candidates host public forum

Student panel and community members voice concerns for district

Dhani Srinivasan, Opinions Editor
Originally published October 25, 2019

Ahead of the Nov. 5 election, candidates running for the three of the four seats open on the Seattle School Board spoke about issues facing Seattle schools in the performing arts center. 

The open forum included questions from both the audience and a student panel.

Questions from the student panel:

When asked who would have voted for the Seahawks parade excused absence, no candidates raised their hand. When asked who would have voted to excuse students for the youth-led climate strike in September, all candidates but Harris raised their hands. 

Hampson: “Given the level of involvement globally and the importance of this issue to our children and their future and their children’s future, this is one of those times that I thought it was imperative that we support our kids and our teachers.”

Muñiz: “Their (student’s) future is at stake and its more than an absence to them, it means the support of adults. As adults we acknowledge the urgency and the gravity of what is happening. I would have supported them taking a day off to make sure that the importance of the event was captured.

Mitchell: “Learning doesn’t just happen in the classroom, it also happens in our environment. We need to do a better job of listening to young people when they come to us and ask us as adults to create policy and change to support them.”

Harris: “When the MAGA folks and the anti-choice folks want excused absences for their protests then precedent is set. Civil disobedience means you are prepared to face the price when you choose to protest. I’ve got no problem with folks that are prepared to pay the price.”

Rankin: “In past marches, my first thought was around civil disobedience but I realized that that came from a place of real privilege in that the impact of an unexcused absence is not the same for every child. In some schools it’s even a measure of what funding they might receive.”

Blumhagen: “I’m incredibly disappointed with the superintendent on this issue because the superintendent said state law does not permit us to do this. If you look at actual state law, it allows for two excused absences on parental approval for reasons of conscious or religious observance. I cannot think of a bigger conscious decision than the defense of our planet.”

There have been reports detailing that while over 50% of Seattle students are students of color but only 19.3% of our entire teacher populations are teachers of color. How will you work to assure that the district hires and retains teachers of color?”

Muñiz: “First we can start by offering proper coaching for teachers of color that have been put under review so that they have a paraeducator. We can also prioritize the hiring of teachers of color and incentivize them with higher pays to make sure that we keep them in our schools as well.”

Mitchell: “ One of the things we have to look at our hiring practices and models. We tend to look at many of these places do not have POC in their programs so we need to increase where we are looking. It’s also one thing to hire a person of color but another thing to retain them. We have the fifth largest opportunity gap in the nation and a piece of that is because of our lack of representation for teachers of color for kids of color.”

Harris: “It’s one of the cornerstones of the new five-year strategic plan. One of the things I am hopeful for is as soon as the issue of affirmative action is addressed, come November we have policies ready to go so that we can take race and ethnicity into the lexicon of how we hire teachers.”

Rankin: “This is an opportunity for partnership with the city. Part of the reason that we are losing not only teachers of color but students of color is that the housing costs in Seattle continue to rise and people can’t afford to stay here. Everyone deserves the opportunity to live in the community that they work in. I think there are creative solutions to work with the city on this.”

Blumhagen: “This also relates to teacher retention where due to our earlier misprojections, we laid off teachers. Historically, the teachers that were laid off first were the first hired and those are disproportionately people of color. That’s changing somewhat with the new teacher contract. Those kinds of operational issues come back to bite us later. We also need to rework the teacher evaluation process so that we are not having institutional bias against teachers of color during the evaluation process.”

Hampson: “We don’t do good outreach to places where we might find teachers of color like tribal colleges and Historically Black Colleges and Universities. In terms of retention, we have to make sure we create an environment that is supportive of teachers of color because many struggle as they are the only ones.”

*Candidates were given one minute to respond to questions. The above quotes include their primary answer. 

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School Board candidates host public forum