Washougal School Board resumes in-person meetings

Community members return to speak out against masks, new equity policy

The Washougal School Board resumed in-person meetings this month for the first time since a May 25 school board meeting ended in disruption and police citations against three community members.

The board members opted for virtual meetings in June and took their normal summer hiatus in July, but decided to meet in-person again on Aug. 10.

Also returning were some of the same community members who had prompted the school board to call the Washougal police in May and a group of Washougal residents upset by the district’s new equity and inclusion policy, as well as a statewide mandate that will require students and staff in Washington’s K-12 schools to wear masks at the start of the 2021-22 school year as COVID-19 case and hospitalization rates continue to increase.

Patricia Bellamy, one of three local women issued citations for disorderly conduct after trying to re-enter the May 25 school board meeting — which had been recessed after one of the women refused to put on a face covering — spoke during the Aug. 10 meeting and criticized the district’s newly approved equity, inclusion and diversity policy.

The board approved the policy, which states that the district will strive to provide opportunities that lead to equitable outcomes for all students and recognize and support students who have been historically underserved to eliminate gaps in outcomes and achievement, on June 8.

“Our children are innocent, our most vulnerable population. They do not see color, nor define people by such,” said Bellamy, the co-leader of the “Washougal Moms” group that is pursuing legal action against the district in an effort to remove all five board members from office.

“Your policy is immoral and unjust and preys upon the innocence of our children. To indoctrinate them, (to tell them) they are either the oppressed or the oppressor, to classify them by their race instead of their character, to institutionalize them with your Marxist, socialist, racist movement, is absolutely despicable. Your policy is bestowing evil and hatred onto our children, and your tyrannical ruling days are numbered. You have waged war against our children, our future and our freedom. I am here, and I am going to fight for them.”

three local women were issued citations for disorderly conduct after trying to re-enter the meeting, which had been recessed after one of the women refused to put on a face covering.

Bellamy also criticized Washougal School District Superintendent Mary Templeton’s earlier announcement that the district will comply with the state’s recent mask mandate for K-12 schools.

“Unmask our children,” Bellamy said. “You are implanting fear onto our children, and they are not responsible for your fears. What are you doing? The only real prison is fear, and the only real freedom is freedom from fear. Stop this senseless use of fear tactics on our children. I am a United States Navy retired veteran; I know all about conformity, and this is not it. This is about control. I took an oath to protect the constitution of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic. You now have become my domestic enemy.”

Washougal resident Emily Miller blasted the district’s handling of a May 18 incident involving her son, Joel, who she said “passed out” after wearing a mask for a sustained period while at school.

“He was not given proper care by the school nurse at Canyon Creek Middle School,” Miller said. “(Wearing a mask for seven hours a day) affects (my son) differently than it does me — my lungs are fully developed. He weighs 80 pounds soaking wet and has a smaller lung capacity than anyone in this room.”

“I once again propose the board lift the outdated mask mandate, a mandate with an original purpose of slowing — not stopping — the spread of the coronavirus in an effort to prevent hospitals and other healthcare facilities from being overfilled with (patients).”

Miller told the board that Joel and her two older children won’t return to the district this fall, a statement that was later questioned by Washougal resident and teacher Wendi Moose, a vocal proponent of the district’s equity policy.

“Parents are saying they’re pulling their students out of the district,” Moose said. “If they are pulling their students out of the district, what’s their purpose for being here? What’s their motivation? It doesn’t make sense.”

Moose said she believes people who oppose equity and mask policies “refuse to play by the rules and share public spaces.”

“Both of these issues boil down to this — according to the social contract that we all sign, we share spaces, resources, etcetera. That’s just part of being human,” Moose said. “Personal choice only goes so far when we’re all on the same boat. Some of us do not want to live on the same boat as everyone else, but we have to figure out a way. If we’re lucky, we can go home and behave however we want, but when we enter those shared public spaces of our community, we have to change our behavior, even when we don’t agree, to create a welcoming (environment) for everyone. Who would be against that? Why would they be against that?”

Templeton said the district will provide in-person education to all students five days per week during the 2021-22 school year, which begins Aug. 31.

Templeton said district leaders’ energy is going toward that five-day-a-week school reopening.

“I can say with confidence and optimism that it’s going to look really, really similar to what it has looked like in the past,” Templeton said of the start of the 2021-22 school year. “One year ago we couldn’t say that, so we are thankful and grateful for the work from our teachers, leaders, parents and students to get us to this point. We have a sense of excitement and optimism for the beginning of this school year.”

Washington Governor Jay Inslee announced July 28 that all of the state’s students and school employees will be legally required to wear masks in educational facilities due to a rise in COVID-19 cases.

“Yes, we are masking,” Templeton said on Aug. 10. “That is an executive order from the governor. We (will) follow the law, as we always have, and that’s what we’re doing. But that doesn’t change our focus, which is doing what we do — educating all 3,000 of our children in person.”