Washougal moms say school district trying to silence them

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Washougal residents Melissa Mcilwain (left) and Patricia Bellamy speak on a video posted to the newly launched website in May 2021. (Screenshot by Doug Flanagan/Post-Record)

Two Washougal women are speaking out against the Washougal School District, saying district officials are “trying to silence those who don’t agree with its curriculum or the narrative that’s being pushed on our children.”

Washougal residents Melissa Mcilwain and Patricia Bellamy have been featured on several local radio and livestream programs, including “The Lars Larson Show” and “The Black Conservative Preacher,” over the past two weeks to discuss what happened during a May 11 Washougal School Board meeting, when Washougal police issued trespass warnings to the two Washougal women for allegedly disrupting the school board’s meeting.

“We’re tired. We’re done,” Mcilwain said on a video posted to the recently launched washoug “I’ve been a member of this community for 13 years, and I thought my voice mattered to the people that I see around here. To be publicly defamed by the people that I not only trust and care about, but trust with my children, is so appalling to me. I have never been more disappointed in this school system and this town than I have been in the last week. This is disgusting.”

The Washougal Moms website also includes a written statement, videos, links to mothers’ media appearances, information about a May 25 protest rally and a request for funds which they will use in their efforts to pursue legal action against the district and the Washougal Police Department.

The website states that district employees and board members violated 10 laws and will soon be served lawsuits for discrimination, civil rights violations, depravation of rights under the color of law, violation of oath of office, libel, defamation of character and causing extreme mental anguish.

The trespass warnings originally barred Mcilwain and Bellamy from all school district property for one year, but the district later amended the warnings, banning the women only from the district’s administration building.

“We thought this was communicated to the individuals verbally when providing the documentation,” said Les Brown, the district’s director of communications and technology. “There was some confusing wording in the form that made it seem like it applied to all of our properties. The district did not get a copy of the (police) form, so we were unaware of the confusing wording. When we became aware of it, we worked with the Washougal Police Department to clarify the order. We understand that the WPD called the individuals to clarify that the trespass was only for the district office property.”

Bellamy and Mcilwain attended the district’s May 11 meeting but were told to leave, along with the other four attendees, after the board voted to recess the gathering because Camas resident Tatyana Stepanyuk, citing a medical exemption, refused to put on a face covering.

“We had met every requirement to attend the meeting in person,” Bellamy said on the video. “We showed up, got our temperature checked, put our masks on and went inside the building. We agreed we had no problem with (Stepanyuk), who refused to wear her mask. To the board members, that was a disruption. (They) canceled the meeting and told everybody that the boardroom needed to be cleared. Everybody got up and walked out of the board room, so we left peacefully.”

Brown said the three women “refused to leave” after the board members ordered the room to be cleared and “continued to argue with the staff for another 10 minutes” before leaving.

“It’s unfortunate that they did not understand what was happening at a technical level,” he said, “but they were not listening to anyone trying to provide them assistance in complying with the posted safety measures, which the board is charged with enforcing in order to have in-person meetings.”

After the room was cleared, the board members requested that “only those who were not part of the disturbance” be readmitted, and called the meeting back to order, according to Brown.

On their way home, Bellamy and Mcilwain heard board members had resumed the meeting, so they turned around and went back to the district office. They, along with Stepanyuk, tried to enter the building, but discovered the door was locked.

“Then we had the window shut on us, and we were mocked and ridiculed for a good 30 minutes for simply trying to enter a public forum and have our voices heard in regard to our children,” Mcilwain said on the video. “We stood there stunned, trying to figure out what was going on and how we could be a part of this meeting (that dealt with) something that we were concerned about.”

Brown said district leaders locked the doors to “restrict those who were part of the disruption from re-entering.”

“When a meeting room is cleared under RCW (Revised Code of Washington) 42.30.050, the only people who must be readmitted are the media, provided they were not part of the disturbance,” he said. “The other guests at the meeting who did not participate in the disturbance were invited back, which is allowed under RCW 42.30.050. A couple of the other guests chose to stay, but at least one left after the commotion.”

At that point, Bellamy said, Stepanyuk “went to her car and got chalk markers and began to write on the windows of the building and some cars” in the parking lot.

WPD officer Ashley Goulding later reported that the words “commie” and “tyrant” were written on some of the car windows in the district administration building parking lot, and the word “crook” was written on one the building’s windows.

“Me and Mel did not partake in this,” Bellamy said on the video. “We were literally just standing there, still in disbelief. But I absolutely 100 percent completely understand the frustration of (Stepanyuk) to do something like that. There was no vandalism, no damage done to anything. There was no yelling, no disrespect. There was no busting out windows of cars. We did not vandalize a public building or public property in any capacity.”

Washougal police officers arrived, took witness statements, talked with district officials and board members, then issued the three women with trespass warnings. Police also cited Stepanyuk for disorderly conduct.

Stepanyuk’s citation “is considered an arrest, but the charge is a misdemeanor and does not require the subject to be handcuffed and booked into jail,” according to WPD senior administrative assistant Kelly Clark.

“Looking back on it, it almost seemed like (the school district officials) knew what they were doing was wrong,” Mcilwain said during a recent “Black Conservative Preacher” episode. “The building was left the same as it was when we got there. We didn’t touch a single part of the building, really. We weren’t disorderly or disruptive or intimidating. We were literally three moms going, ‘Hey, let us in. We’re allowed to be here.’ We did nothing wrong.”

Mcilwain and Bellamy believe they weren’t allowed back into the meeting because they were planning to denounce the district’s new equity, diversity and inclusion policy — which Bellamy falsely claimed was “critical race theory curriculum” during the “Black Conservative Preacher” episode — and student mask-mandates.

“We are meant to be working together to raise these children to be functioning citizens of this country, and they interfered with my ability to do that because (they) didn’t like what we had to say,” Mcilwain said. “(They) had an excuse, and took it and ran with it, and I’m sure if that wasn’t available there would’ve been another one.”

“I think it’s funny that those who are preaching inclusion excluded us,” Bellamy said during the “Black Conservative Preacher” episode. “They preach diversity, but are obviously so afraid of diversity of thought.”

Hundreds of people gathered outside the district’s administration building on May 25 for a rally in support of Bellamy and Mcilwain and against masks and vaccinations in schools, the district’s equity policy and other topics.

The event also featured live music, a barbecue and several guest speakers, including Yacolt resident Joe Kent, who is challenging U.S. Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler for Washington’s 3rd Congressional District.

“We’re tired of this,” Mcilwain said during the “Black Conservative Preacher” episode. “We’re tired of not being heard. We’re tired of being hushed and silenced and intimidated by the school board. We can’t just be quiet anymore. We either need to start speaking up now and figure something out, or what else are we going to do? These are our babies. We should be protecting them. It’s just crazy to me that this is even a thing. Everybody needs to either buckle up and put their big-boy pants on, or we’re going to lose everything we love about this country and this town.”

Mcilwain and Bellamy declined to be interviewed by The Post-Record.