School board gets earful at monthly meeting

Published on Wed, Feb 29, 2012 by Pat Grubb

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The Blaine school board’s Monday-night meeting was filled to the brim with students and parents expressing support for a middle school teacher. Photo by Pat Grubb.

In a standing-room-only meeting, the Blaine school board was confronted Monday night at its monthly meeting by a crowd of parents and students unhappy about a middle school teacher who had been recently suspended for six weeks. Although the teacher in question has returned to work, audience members voiced concerns over the suspension and how it had been handled by the administration. Speaker after speaker lauded the teacher for her excellence and ability to work with students.

After someone identified the teacher, board chair Susan Holmes cautioned the crowd that the administration was unable to discuss any individual teacher or student and asked speakers to avoid identifying specific individuals.

Reportedly, the teacher’s suspension came about after five students had bullied another student and the teacher asked them to write letters of apology, which they did. However, school policy requires written infractions to be issued in instances of bullying. The five students apparently objected to the infractions and accused the teacher of inappropriate language and behavior when she levied the punishment. The teacher denied the charges.

Typical of the comments heard by the board, one woman said, “This teacher raised the bar for my two daughters. They really learned a great deal from this teacher – she demanded excellence and my daughters had to respond to that. There was no way out, and they produced work that we were really impressed with. We were never asked to do that kind of work at their age – she produced wonderful work from our daughters and she continued to be a wonderful mentor to them. What I know of her is that she speaks the truth and that she is dedicated. She was really stellar at teaching our daughters a work ethic. ... I think she is quite an amazing teacher and something is really amiss if we lose teachers with that kind of passion and dedication to her profession.”

Another parent expressed doubts over the school’s policies on bullying, saying, “The issue is bullying. The whole thing started with bullying and all we knew was that the teacher was gone. If there was bullying, all we know is that the teacher is in trouble. Those kids are still in the classroom, still in the lunchroom, still in the hallway and when a student is allowed to say in front of other kids that they can get a teacher fired, I think that is bullying. It’s very intimidating, and when a teacher asks the classroom, ‘How many of you don’t feel safe here?’ and a majority of the kids raise their hands, there is a problem here. And I don’t think it’s been addressed. Those comments, those statements are still running rampant in our school system. All the kids know what happened and if there is an instance of bullying, does the teacher get taken out of the equation? I know the principal has his hands tied; that he can’t discuss the situation, so all we hear is the kids’ versions. If you want to stop the bullying, it won’t work that way. At some point in time, we have to send our kids off to school and we want them to be safe. If they’re going to be intimidated by these kids, then these policies have to be changed. I would really like the school board to look at their policies.”

Responding for the board, Holmes told the crowd, “I know it takes courage to stand up. Your comments have been duly noted.”
In other district news, the Blaine school board has let no moss grow since voters approved a $3 million bond measure on the February 14 special schools election. The board heard a project overview given by Jim Kenoyer, who will be overseeing the construction process, beginning with architect selection and putting the project out for bids.

Also up was Trevor Carlson, a Seattle Northwest Securities representative, who gave the board an overview on issuing construction bonds. Addressing the current world economic situation, Carlson told the board, “Bad news is good news for the bond market. The Fed has made its intent known that it intends to keep interest rates low for an extended period of time, really at all-time lows. ... It is an opportune time to ask investors to buy your bonds.”

Reviewing the figures, district superintendent Ron Spanjer pointed out to the board that Carlson’s firm was projecting more favorable bond costs than what had been given to the public and would result in a reduced impact to property taxes.

Finally, the board approved Monday, June 11, for graduation day.