More than 20 Camas-area residents — including the owner of a Washougal pediatric health clinic and several parents who have pulled their students out of public Camas schools — wrote letters and spoke at an in-person Camas School Board meeting on Monday, May 10, lambasting mask mandates and other COVID-19 safety measures; remote learning; racial justice and equity programs; and “woke agendas.”
“I no longer believe our children’s futures and educations are at the core and heart of the school board and district,” Kenric Thompson, who identified himself as a father of two children in the Camas School District, told Camas school board members Monday. “This is one of the reasons why I am pulling my daughter out of the school district.”
Thompson accused the school board and district leaders of “perpetuating woke agendas” including “critical race theory, pronouns, sexual education, politics and lobbying by the teachers unions, perpetual fear inside classrooms and ultimately enabling illiberal teachers to divide classrooms and target those children who do not agree with their viewpoints.”
Thompson focused on the district’s racial equity program, which he called “disgusting and shameful” and claimed is teaching Camas children “to be racist and judge each other based on the color of one’s skin.”
The school district ramped up its focus on equity issues in 2016, after hearing from several parents who were concerned about racist incidents happening inside the Camas School District. The district hosted a series of equity forums with students, parents, teachers and district administrators throughout 2018, and the school board adopted its new equity policy in October 2018.
The district’s equity policy examines how race, as well as gender, sexual identity, special education status and socioeconomic factors play into student equity and success. District leaders said then they will know they’ve achieved their equity goal “when the factors that predict any student’s success or opportunity are no longer correlated with any group identity.”
Several of the parents who spoke at the Monday night school board meeting and submitted written comments said they are concerned about “critical race theory,” an academic movement that originated with civil rights scholars in the 1970s that seeks to critically examine how social, cultural and legal issues relate to race and racism in American society.
Thompson said he believed critical race theory “is actually teaching children to be racist,” and accused the school board of “trying to introduce a woke, illiberal agenda.”
“We are not a racist country,” Thompson said, “and your liberal and divisive agendas are being pushed on our children and brainwashing them into thinking we should judge others based on a characteristic they cannot change.”
Thompson said everyone on the board who voted for the equity policy should “immediately resign.”
“The community is coming for you,” Thompson said. “You thought by hopping on the ‘woke train’ it would save all of you, but you had no idea about the sleeping giants that have been (awoken) by your illiberal push. We’re tired of these woke agendas ruining our schools and our children’s futures. And I can’t wait to see the board this next year, as it’s going to look very different if you keep this up.”
Dacey Thompson, a Camas mother of two, also spoke Monday night and said her children’s education “has been a joke over the last 14 months” due to COVID-19 restrictions that implemented remote, then hybrid and now four-days-a-week of in-person learning at Camas schools.
“Children are not affected by this virus,” she said. “My child’s right to fresh air does not stop at someone else’s fear … it is time to remove the mask to allow oxygen to get to their brains.”
According to a mid-April 2021 report by the American Academy of Pediatrics, at least 297 children in the United States have died of COVID-19 and nearly 15,000 children have been hospitalized due to complications from the coronavirus.
Dacey Thompson accused the school board of “government overreach” that used “masks to keep people silent” and said she would not be allowing her children to continue attending Camas schools.
Like most of the speakers Monday night, neither of the Thompsons wore masks, despite a district policy requiring guests at in-person school board meetings to wear face coverings over their noses and mouths.
Camas School District Superintendent Jeff Snell later told the Post-Record “several people cited a medical note for not wearing their masks during the meeting” and said the district would review the state’s directive regarding masks at indoor meetings “and communicate that in our board meeting attendance requirements for future meetings.”
Snell added that some of the concerns shared Monday were frustrations with COVID-19 protocols that are established by state and county public health departments.
“This has been a challenging year with a lot of polarized views about how to navigate the pandemic and best serve our students,” Snell said. “Throughout the year, we’ve seen the protocols (for COVID-19 prevention) evolve based on the current situation with the pandemic. We expect that to continue and will stay up to date with them.”
Another parent, Kelsey Hartley, who said she had lived in Camas for about 10 years, said she also did not agree with the district’s equity policy.
“I do not agree with the new equity agenda,” Hartley said Monday. “As we all know, regardless of how much money you have or what your experience is, life will never be fair. It doesn’t matter what race you are, it will never be fair.”
Hartley said her chief concern was that she saw “buzzwords in the equity (policy) that sound like communism.”
“Social justice and Black Lives Matter as an organization we want to follow?” Hartley said. “Black Lives Matter is a misnomer. If they really cared about Black lives, there would be major unrest in the ghettos. This is like Chicago, L.A.”
“I know there have been horrible, abysmal things and behaviors of racism in our schools,” Hartley added. “However, I also feel that it is not going to work to try to make life fair for everybody. It’s impossible.”
Pediatric health practitioner claims he knows COVID cure, accuses board of ‘pure evil’
Scott Miller, a certified physician assistant who runs Miller Family Pediatrics in Washougal, was one of those who spoke out against masks and other COVID-19 safety protocols at the Monday evening school board meeting.
“I don’t know anybody that’s died (from COVID-19),” Miller said. “I’ve treated 350 COVID patients. Do you know there’s treatment? … I treat people every day. I had 90 COVID patients come into my clinic last month.”
Miller then falsely claimed ivermectin, a drug used to treat parasites in animals, as well as vitamin D and vitamin C were cures for the novel coronavirus that has killed nearly 600,000 Americans since March 2020. The European Medicines Agency and the United States Food and Drug Administration have both said the available data “does not support the drug’s use for COVID-19 outside of well-designed clinical trials.” Likewise, the World Health Organization has warned against using ivermectin for COVID-19. In February, the drug’s manufacturer, Merck & Co., Inc., stated it has found ivermectin has “no scientific basis for a potential therapeutic effect against COVID-19” as well as “a concerning lack of safety data in the majority of studies.”
In his comments to the school board on Monday, Miller said he has felt anger “every day” because of the Camas School District’s leaders and railed against the district’s requirement for students to wear masks during their in-person learning days.
“Do you not know what you’re teaching these kids or what you’re doing to them?” Miller asked. “Or do you know and you don’t care, which is nefarious and evil? It’s either gross negligence or pure, unadulterated evil.”
Miller also brought up an off-campus COVID-19 outbreak that impacted more than two dozen Camas High students and their close contacts and was linked to a student party where teens were socializing with their peers without masks.
Miller said he would talk to students in his pediatric practice about the outbreak and when they would tell him it was bad that their peers had broken COVID-19 safety protocols and gathered unmasked, he would pull out his phone and bring up photos of himself “hanging out with a bunch of buddies in Montana, skiing, in a bar with live music,” and say, “No, they’re doing exactly what kids should be doing: (being) engaged in life.”
Miller drew applause from the audience at the board meeting, and went on, saying he did not allow his own children to wear masks during the pandemic.
“I do not allow them to wear a mask,” Miller said. “I did not allow them to wear a mask when we went to the airport and got on a plane.”
The pediatric care provider added that he has been “begging and begging” parents to unenroll their students from Camas schools, reject COVID-19 safety protocols such as wearing face coverings in public and to “start acting normally, letting go of the fear-mongering.”
Other parents also spoke against the mask requirements for Camas students attending in-person classes. The district does offer fully remote learning options for all of its students.
Geri Rubano, of Camas, said she was speaking for her son, a Camas student.
“Mask wearing presents severe risk of harm and should not be required for children,” Rubano told the school board on Monday.
Rubano compared the district’s mask-wearing policy to “forced medical experiments performed on human subjects without express permission,” and said she did not consent to her son “or any child in this district” being masked.
“Shame on you,” Rubano, who slid her mask down around her chin while speaking, told the board before walking away to applause and cheers from the crowd gathered inside the district’s board room on Monday.
Camas School Board President Tracey Malone said the school board will not change its policy regarding its requirement to wear masks at the in-person board meetings.
“If community members are unable to wear a mask, even for medical reasons, we will ask that they view a live feed of our meeting outside of the board room and submit public comment in writing,” Malone told the Post-Record on Tuesday.
Malone added that the school district does not implement critical race theory into its curriculum.
“Our focus on equity is the mission of the district to see and serve each student,” she explained. “Talking about student experiences and owning our responsibility as a district to better serve students can be uncomfortable but we want to be clear that conversations in the classroom around historical racism or systemic racism doesn’t correlate to a curriculum.”
“We understand that critical race theory is an academic movement focusing on systemic racism and we do not have curriculum based on this movement,” Malone added. “Our equity policy, approved in 2016, is about eliminating the predictors and barriers to student achievement. We hold several equity forums throughout the year.”
The district will host its next equity forum in the fall of 2021, Malone said.
COVID-19 rates continue to climb
After the 55-minute public comment period on Monday, Snell gave his superintendents report.
“Unfortunately, (COVID-19 transmission) rates are going up,” Snell said.
On Tuesday, Clark County Public Health reported a rate of new COVID cases of 276.6 per 100,000 residents, up from 110 cases per 100,000 residents in early April.
Snell said though the state has given clear guidance on how school districts could reopen classrooms as COVID-19 transmission rates fell, the guidance for what to do when students are already in the classrooms but community COVID rates are climbing is less clear.
“At this point, there are not a lot of recommendations for transitioning out (of a low or moderate COVID activity rate),” Snell said Monday.
He said district staff are not recommending making another transition, possibly going back to a more restrictive hybrid learning model, “at this point.”
“We would love to have the rates go down,” Snell said. “We continue to remind our community to wear masks, distance and do the things that help our students remain in class.”
Snell added that “another wild card” was the FDA’s announcement this week that it has approved the Pfizer-BioNtech COVID-19 vaccine for children ages 12 to 15 in addition to all people age 16 and older.
With that announcement, several people in the audience cried out “no” and “not approved” and “experimental” in regard to the COVID-19 vaccines.
Snell said district leaders continue to “recognize the importance of minimizing transmission for students and staff,” and urged the school board to think about what in-person learning will look like when students return in the fall for the start of the 2021-22 school year.
Board member Connie Hennessey said she would like district staff to look into possibilities surrounding the district’s requirement that masks be worn during recess and while children are outdoors.
Malone said the board “continues to strongly encourage and enforce masks inside schools,” and said, if COVID-19 rates continue to climb in Clark County, “it could be necessary to return back to our hybrid model and/or cohorting of students.”
To view the May 10 school board meeting, visit bit.ly/33xSd3R.