OPINION: February Cheers & Jeers

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category icon Editorials, Opinion

For the shortest month of the year, February certainly was packed with an extraordinary number of highly charged Camas-Washougal news.

The biggest local story this month spread like wildfire and made international headlines after someone leaked a screenshot of then-Camas High principal Liza Sejkora’s private Facebook site, exposing an undeniably horrible comment linking the sudden death of basketball superstar Kobe Bryant — who had been accused of sexual assault nearly 17 years prior — to karma catching up to a rapist.

That story and its aftermath has earned several “Cheers and Jeers” this month.

First, the double Jeers: one to Sejkora for her tactless and hurtful comment about a man who had, in the years following his sexual assault charge, become a role model to hundreds of thousands of people for his championing of female athletes in general and of young girls of color in particular. And a second Jeers for the public’s rush to crucify the Camas principal.

There is no question that Sejkora, who resigned days after the story broke, saying she didn’t want to be a disruption to Camas High students or staff, made a huge mistake and was cruel in the face of others’ suffering. But was her private post — which she removed soon after discovering that Bryant’s young daughter and several others had also been killed in the helicopter crash that claimed the star’s life, and which she later apologized for, saying her past experiences and emotions had played into her “inappropriate and tasteless” post — deserving of the thousands of hate-filled online comments, threats against her life and demands for her immediate dismissal? Definitely not.

As awful as it was, there were Cheers to be found in the Sejkora story. The first Cheers is for the students who monitored social media accounts following the breaking news about their principal’s post and reported potential threats to school district leaders in an effort to protect their peers and teachers. A second Cheers is for Camas School District Superintendent Jeff Snell’s ability to remain calm and steady during an otherwise explosive situation. And a third Cheers is for the lesson that we should all take away from this: to be wary of sharing our innermost thoughts with a faceless group of social media “friends” and to think twice before posting anything to an online world that will never be completely private.

Our next set of February Cheers go out to two first-responders highlighted on the front page of the Feb. 20 Post-Record: Washougal police officer Francis Reagan and Camas-Washougal Fire Department training captain Chris Richardson.

Reagan, who was recently named by the Washington Council of Police and Sheriffs as the “2019 Law Enforcement Officer of the Year” for his part in a Washougal River rescue in May 2019, earns his Cheers for the empathy he showed toward the family of a man who did not survive his fall into the Washougal River that day. Likewise, the compassion for others Richardson has shown following his own frightening health diagnosis has earned the fire captain and his fundraising efforts for a group that benefits veterans and those suffering from a degenerative disease known as Ataxia a well-deserved Cheers.

The final round of Cheers is for several Camas-Washougal athletes, including members of the Camas High gymnastics team, which set a new school record this week, bringing home Camas’ third-straight state gymnastics title; and the Camas-Washougal wrestlers who recently placed 14th (Camas boys) and 18th (Washougal girls) at the state championship Mat Classic XXXII. An extra Cheers is for Washougal wrestler Scott Lees, who finished fourth in the 2A 152-pound weight class at the Mat Classic and who, according to his coaches, never missed a practice during his four years as a varsity wrestler for Washougal High.

That leaves our final Jeers. This one goes out to Camas city officials who may still be relying on old fears and outdated studies to uphold the city’s 5-year-old ban on cannabis retail shops.

Now that at least 10 states have legalized the recreational use of marijuana, and Washington state itself has more than seven years’ worth of data to draw on, city leaders need to face the fact that legalizing cannabis has had positive economic, social and medical impacts — bringing millions of tax dollars into local municipalities; decreasing violent-crime rates as well as reported use among those younger than 21; and adding to a growing body of research on marijuana’s ability to treat pain, cancer, PTSD, depression, anxiety and many other ailments — often more effectively than highly addictive pharmaceutical drugs.

When they passed the ban in 2015, the research wasn’t as clear. Now, however, Camas officials should recognize that many of their concerns about the possible negative impacts of allowing a single cannabis retail shop in the city limits were based more on outdated fears than on actual facts.