Camas, WA — Monday’s first in-person Camas School Board meeting in more than a year got very pointed and personal during the public comments section time. Parents emphasized in very clear words their distrust and frustration in how the school board is handling the pandemic at every stage: from remote learning to reopening, face mask usage, as well as a push to drive critical race theory and equity programs into the schools stating its flaming the fans of racism.
Using key data points, the parents (which included one physician) decried the over use of face masks in the schools, and in particular during recess and outdoor activities.
This video contains many of the parents who spoke up: https://youtu.be/dWPlbiXnrIc
The criticism against the school board was at times personal and one parent said there are ways to remove elected officials. Supporters of the some of the speakers stood outside the board room window chanting approval of the words said. Patriot Preyer leader Joey Gibson was present, but not actively involved in the proceedings. Indoor attendance was limited due to COVID-19 restrictions.
A post-meeting reply to those accusations was addressed by School Board Director Tracey Malone: “Camas School District is focused on equity in our mission to see and serve each student. Owning our responsibility as a district to better serve students can be uncomfortable, however our equity work and honoring student voice and their experiences should not be confused with Critical Race Theory. Critical Race Theory is not a set of curriculum we have adopted for students.”
School Board Director Erika Cox kicked off the meeting with this land acknowledgment statement: “I acknowledge that the geographical region of Camas is located on the ancestral and territorial lands of the Chinook and Cowlitz People, and that the Chinook are still fighting to be a federally recognized tribe on their own land.“
Malone explained why the board reads the land acknowledgment.
“We have started our school board meetings with the pledge of allegiance followed by the land acknowledgement since 2020,” Malone said. “A land acknowledgment is an opportunity to share our history and recognize and respect the people who lived on the land our district resides. Similar to the way we talk about the Mill Town Pride award as being the best of who we were, who we are, and who we want to be, the land we live on is a part of who we are and we recognize and respect the relationship of the Indigenous Peoples as stewards of this land.”
Malone also addressed accusations that the school board doesn’t follow how school districts in other states cope with the pandemic.
“We are constantly updating research about the impact of COVID on schools, research about mitigation and countermeasures, and research about learning. We’ve kept this research up to date and accessible to the public on our district website https://www.camas.wednet.edu/covid-19/2020-21-reopening-resources/
During the meeting, outgoing Camas School District Superintendent Jeff Snell went over learning delivery models and how they’re preparing for Fall instruction. He said the state is using the word “must” when proposing guidelines for using masks, but he also added there appears to be less restraints coming on outdoor mask use.
Snell said 70 percent of high school students are currently learning in the classroom.
School Board Director Connie Hennessey addressed face masks during outdoor activities.
“We’ve talked a lot about masks at recess. Do we still need masks at recess?” The crowd in the room said “no.”
As a follow up to the outdoor face mask issue, Malone further clarified the board’s position.
“We’ll continue to take direction from public health regarding masks, distancing, and contact tracing and look for opportunities to expand services and return to ‘normal’ any chance we get,” Malone said.
Hennessey also added: “When the [COVID] numbers change, when the phases change we need to see where the outbreaks are in the county and make decisions based on that rather than just by a number.” To which Cox said “A number doesn’t define what the situation is.”
The CHS Field House and the Garver Theater renovation projects are the final portions from the 2016 $130 million bond. The field house turf is currently being laid and the Garver Theater renovation will be completed later this year.
Camas School District is dealing with a $4.1 million deficit mostly because of the 6-7 percent enrollment drop but that loss is being offset by stimulus money awarded by the state for enrollment stabilization and transportation stabilization.
The school board meets every two weeks.