Four vying for Camas School Board

Candidates for the board's District 1 and District 2 seats discuss the school district's response to the COVID-19 pandemic, ongoing superintendent search, funding challenges and recent outcry over 'critical race theory'

Incumbent Camas School Board director Corey McEnry hopes to retain his District 1 seat in the Nov. 2, 2021 General and Special Election. (Photo courtesy of Corey McEnry)

Camas School Board director Corey McEnry is pictured with his wife, Kristen, and their daughter, Molly. (Photo courtesy of Corey McEnry)

Camas School Board director Corey McEnry hugs his daughter, Molly, a fourth-grader at Helen Baller Elementary School. (Photo courtesy of Corey McEnry)

Lacamas Magazine owner Ernie Geigenmiller is running against incumbent Camas School Board member Corey McEnry in the Nov. 2 General and Special Election. (Photo courtesy of Ernie Geigenmiller)

Incumbent Camas School Board member Erika Cox, a longtime Camas schools volunteer, hopes to retain her District 2 board seat in the Nov. 2, 2021 General and Special Election. (Photo courtesy of Erika Cox)

Camas School Board director Erika Cox (second from left) attends her son, Elliot's (third from left) 2021 graduation from Camas High School with her family, including husband, Ryan (left) and daughters Charlotte (second from right) and Emma (right) in June 2021. (Photo courtesy of Erika Cox)

Camas School Board member Erika Cox reads to students and families during a 2021 summer reading program. (Photo courtesy of Erika Cox)

Vancouver insurance agent Jeremiah Stephen is running against incumbent Camas School Board member Erika Cox in the Nov. 2 General and Special Election. (Photo from Jeremiah4Camas campaign)

Editor’s note: This story has been updated on Oct. 21, 2021, to reflect Jeremiah Stephen’s responses to The Post-Record’s questions about his campaign. 

There are four people vying for two open Camas School Board seats in the Nov. 2 General and Special Election.

Incumbents Erika Cox and Corey McEnry each face one challenger: Jeremiah Stephen, a Vancouver insurance agent, is competing for Cox’s District 2 seat, while Ernie Geigenmiller, the owner of Lacamas Magazine, is competing against McEnry for the board’s District 1 seat.

The Post-Record reached out to all four candidates to learn more about why they want to be a part of the school board. Both incumbents, as well as Geigenmiller, responded by this newspaper’s print deadline. Stephen’s responses will be included in a later, online version of this article.

Position 1: Incumbent Corey McEnry

Incumbent Camas School Board member Corey McEnry said he is devoted to improving and strengthening the public education system.

“I believe in public education,” McEnry, Camas native who has been a music teacher in the Hockinson School District since 2008, and served on the Camas School Board since 2018, told The Post-Record this week. “I have devoted my life and career to public education. Public education is the great equalizer in our society, and I volunteer as a member of the Camas School Board to make sure that each student has the resources, tools and experiences they need to be successful throughout their time in our schools so that they may grow up to be thoughtful, creative, and contributing members of our community.”

McEnry said he also believes experience matters.

“As a National Board-certified high school teacher of over 13 years here in Clark County, I have used my experiences in the classroom to guide my decisions as a board member,” McEnry said. “These experiences give me a unique perspective on the board. I understand how the decisions made by a board can have a profound impact, directly and indirectly, on the students and teachers in our classrooms because I have experienced the intended and unintended consequences of those decisions myself. Every decision I have made as a board member has been weighed and examined through the eyes of a teacher wanting what is best for kids.”

The school board director also sees public education in Camas through the eyes of a parent these days. McEnry and his wife, Kristin — also a teacher — have one daughter, Molly, a fourth-grader at Helen Baller Elementary School. In 2030, Molly will be the fourth generation in McEnry’s family to graduate from Camas schools.

“I’m proud to have grown up and lived in Camas, and I’m optimistic about raising my daughter in the same hometown that allowed my grandparents, parents and myself to become who we are today,” McEnry said. “I realize how fortunate I was to receive the education I received in Camas, and (voters) can count on me to unite traditional Camas values and experiences with innovative, 21st-century skills and knowledge to position each Camas student for success in their chosen pathway after graduation.”

Asked to name what he believes to be the school board’s top-three responsibilities, McEnry said “leading by example; responsibly managing taxpayer funds and resources and engaging with stakeholders.”

“The primary responsibility of a school board member is to collaborate with their board colleagues, superintendent and district staff on articulating a mission and vision for the district and overseeing its execution,” McEnry explained, adding that the current Camas School Board members all bring “unique experiences and backgrounds to the position” while still striving “to make informed decisions based on reviewing all the facts and data presented to us while leading in a respectful and civil manner that Camas deserves.”

Being fiscally responsible with taxpayer dollars also plays a huge role in McEnry’s work on the school board, he said.

“One of the biggest reasons for our district’s success has been the consistent support from our taxpayers. A majority of our voters throughout our recent history have consistently supported bonds and levies in order to maintain the Camas School District’s tradition of caring, quality and growth,” he said. “As a steward of taxpayer funds, I take the responsibility of efficiently and carefully allocating those precious resources very seriously. Through my efforts and those of my board colleagues, we have sought not only to invest in new and updated facilities in Camas, but also to maintain our existing facilities to prolong their usefulness. We have adapted to new funding models forced on us by the state legislature and sought to balance tax burdens on our patrons with the quality of programs we deliver and that our community has come to expect.”

McEnry said the board has pursued “both conventional and creative opportunities to invest in projects for our district’s future that will yield a high rate of return for our community, such as modernizing our bus fleet, partnering with Sharp to develop our project-based learning campus, and the acquisition of the Leadbetter Campus (formerly Underwriters Laboratories).”

In the end, McEnry added, the board members also are there to represent their constituents.

“It is my goal to make myself available to members of the community in more ways than just public comment times at board meetings,” he said.

Looking forward, McEnry said the current school board has “one of the most consequential and far-reaching decisions a school board will make” coming up at the end of this year. That is, of course, selecting a superintendent to replace the district’s long-time leader, Jeff Snell, who took a position as superintendent of the Vancouver Public Schools district in July 2021.

“The departure of Superintendent Snell presents a rare opportunity for our board, staff, students, families and community stakeholders to come together to decide who our next leader should be and how they should move our district forward,” McEnry said.

If reelected, McEnry said he also will remain committed to “seeing and serving each student.”

“Camas Schools have a history of quality and excellence. There are many reasons for this, including community support, high-quality staff and supportive families. As a district, we have led the way in innovating public education through such recent initiatives as flipping start times for elementary and secondary schools, investing in project-based learning and other specialized means of instruction, an emphasis in brain development and social-emotional learning, and our district equity policy,” McEnry said. “In order to continue to succeed and improve we must keep grounding our methods in the latest research and data around how students learn, identifying barriers to a free and appropriate public education within our systems, and offering multiple pathways and strategies for students to achieve at their highest possible level.”

‘What kind of precedent would that set?’

In response to the small-but-vocal group of community members who have recently turned up at Camas School Board meetings to speak out against the district’s 3-year-old equity, diversity and inclusion policy, McEnry said he will continue to pursue “a goal of equity in which the factors that predict any student’s success or opportunity are no longer correlated with any group identity, such as race, socioeconomic status, ability, and gender.”

The ire directed toward the district’s equity work during board meetings seems to be confined to a small, but vocal group of people, and McEnry said he has met many Camas residents during his campaigning who not only support the new equity policy, but who also want school board members to keep up with a quickly diversifying community.

“The pandemic is still first and foremost on everybody’s minds … but also equity work. I’m hearing that from a lot of people as Camas continues to diversify. Last year was the first year Camas was under 70 percent white, so almost one in three students are persons of color,” McEnry said. “We also have more students affected by homelessness, more English language learners … we want to make sure our system is serving each student.”

Like Cox, McEnry said he was taken aback by the contentious May 10 school board meeting.

“It took us by surprise. We hadn’t really heard anything like that,” McEnry said of the onslaught of community members railing against the district’s equity policy and COVID-19 precautions.

In McEnry’s opinion, the small group of people who have continued to speak against mask mandates, COVID-19 vaccinations and policies surrounding the district’s equity, diversity and inclusion work are in the minority.

“An overwhelming majority of people are happy with the direction the board has taken,” McEnry said. “By May 11 (the day after the first contentious school board meeting), we were getting (supportive) emails.”

When it comes to the district’s handling of the pandemic, McEnry said the board has been following state mandates with the support of Clark County public health officials.

“Camas has really led the way in reopening and in doing so in a way that was thoughtful and proactive,” McEnry said. “And we’ve been able to stay open with minimal transmissions.”

He added that, for those who have said school board members should reject the state’s public health mandates, “the state has … threatened to withhold state funding from districts that defy these mandates. When approximately 75 percent of our district’s funding comes directly from the state, I would not be upholding my oath to this district and this community if I willingly defied a law or mandate that could have serious long-term ramifications for our district. What kind of precedent would that set for future boards?” McEnry asked. “Does it become OK for boards and districts to pick and choose which laws and mandates they feel like following? I believe that to do so as an elected official would be irresponsible, short-sighted and destructive to our tradition of excellence in Camas.”

McEnry can still remember the exact moment he realized he wanted to become an educator and, more specifically, to devote his life to being a high school band teacher.

He was a junior at Camas High School when it happened — a saxophone player in the pit orchestra practicing for the school’s production of “My Fair Lady.”

“Shortly before we were to start our week of rehearsals with the cast leading up to opening week, my band director, Mr. Mancini, pulled me aside. He told me he had suffered a death in the family and was going to have to miss some rehearsals to travel back east to the funeral,” McEnry recalled. “Since I was drum major at the time, he asked if I would be willing to lead the pit orchestra during the rehearsals. Not knowing any better, I said, ‘yes.'”

“The first rehearsal was a mess and I made a fool of myself. I went home that night with the sheet music and a recording of the show, determined to learn the music. I came back to the next rehearsal much more prepared … and was able to cue musicians and singers, give input on editing the music and hold everything together.”

“This was the moment I decided I wanted to devote my life and career to being a high school band director,” McEnry said. “It is my hope that future Camas students can experience that moment with an inspirational teacher or impactful learning moment that opens their eyes to their potential and helps them find meaning and purpose in their life, and I want to help create the conditions and atmosphere within the district that allows these ‘a-ha’ moments to happen.”

When he’s not teaching or working for the school board, McEnry enjoys exploring the region’s many walking and hiking trails; traveling around the Pacific Northwest with his family in their recreational vehicle (RV); and enjoying Camas’ cuisine.

“Camas has some of the best restaurants around,” McEnry said. “To me, nothing says Camas like a Teen Burger and an order of fries from Top Burger. When my dad was alive, he and I would always argue about whether Top Burger or Old-Fashioned Maid was the better burger joint in town. I must say, though, that since Old-Fashioned Maid has become K and M, their guacamole bacon burger has quickly become one of my favorites. And, especially during the fall, there’s nothing better than responsibly enjoying a beverage at Grains of Wrath while watching college football.”

If he could say one more thing to the voters, McEnry said it would be this: “Just simply that I love Camas. I love the Camas School District. And I love serving as a board member. I believe in public service, and I believe in lending my strengths to the greater good,” he said. “I have devoted my life and career to public education, and it is my hope that through my unique perspectives of being a dad, teacher, spouse of a teacher, longtime Camas resident and current board member, I can continue to give back to this community.”

Position 1: Challenger Ernie Geigenmiller

Ernie Geigenmiller is competing for McEnry’s seat on the Camas School Board.

A longtime presence at school board meetings, Geigenmiller, the owner of Lacamas Magazine, has covered the board as a reporter and said he sees “major frustration” from parents and others who attend board meetings.

“I’ve heard from parents over the years about how much they feel left out of the process, especially when it comes to middle and high school. I think a majority feel that (Camas School District) administration doesn’t hear them, and that includes the school board,” Geigenmiller told The Post-Record this week. “I also hear from teachers who feel they aren’t heard either, and that the CSD administration continues to micromanage them. And lastly, I hear from students frequently about how often teachers bring in their personal politics into classrooms. We need to make improvements in all these areas, and I feel a change in leadership at the school board level can, over time, change how we operate. I’m a good communicator, a good listener and I’m good at building bridges.”

Geigenmiller’s candidacy raises questions about the lines between journalism and government. As The New York Times Ethical Journalism handbook notes: “Journalists have no place on the playing field of politics. … Seeking or serving in public office plainly violates the professional detachment expected of a journalist.” Asked if he believed his candidacy violated journalism ethics rules, Geigenmiller said he has purposely not reported on school board meetings since August.

“If elected, I will either hire a person to report on school board meetings, and give that person full independence (or) not report on school board meetings at all,” Geigenmiller said.

If elected to the board, Geigenmiller said he would focus on what he believes to be the school board’s most important responsibilities: maintaining government standards, managing the superintendent and the district’s budgeting and financing roles.

“One of our school board’s primary responsibilities involves establishing the rules and policies that will be used to govern our Camas schools. This could be anything from adjusting schedules to addressing ethical issues in administration. These standards need to ensure that each student is served, heard and receives a well-rounded education,” Geigenmiller said.

Some of the most critical issues facing the district, in Geigenmiller’s opinion, are “ensuring students receive a top education, managing budgets and greater parental involvement in our schools.”

“I hear often how students are falling through the cracks, or just being moved up to the next grade to meet district benchmarks. We aren’t seeing and serving each student well right now. We must do better,” Geigenmiller said. “The CSD budget director is concerned that lower statewide birth rates will cause a decrease in enrollment in the coming years so we’ll need to adjust budgets accordingly. And we need to reach out to our parents and encourage more involvement in our schools, especially at the middle and high school levels. They need to feel engaged and part of the process. I think that will create a stronger district.”

Geigenmiller on COVID-19 mandates and the equity policies

Geigenmiller also weighed in on recent school board meetings in which community members have refused to follow the district’s mask mandates, been outspoken in their opposition to COVID-19 safety protocols and brought up “critical race theory,” a right-wing talking point that has come up at school board meetings across the nation this year. The theory is defined in an article published earlier this year by the American Bar Association as “a practice of interrogating the role of race and racism in society that emerged in the legal academy and spread to other fields of scholarship … (that) critiques how the social construction of race and institutionalized racism perpetuate a racial caste system that relegates people of color to the bottom tiers.”

“My understanding of (critical race theory) is that it teaches our nation’s origins and foundations are racist in nature, but CRT definitions vary often,” Geigenmiller said. “To me, the U.S. flag represents fairness and progress. It’s been an evolution to make things better for all. When the nation was founded, women couldn’t vote. Now they can. When the nation was founded, slavery was rampant, and they were freed after the U.S. Civil War. I am against racism and bigotry, or harassment in any form, and have experienced it directly during my life.”

Current Camas School Board members have pointed out that the district led the way in Clark County when it came to reopening schools safely during the COVID-19 pandemic and that the district’s adherence to the state’s public health mandates have led to few transmissions of the deadly coronavirus inside Camas schools.

Geigenmiller said he believes the school board is “following mandates set by the state and (are) in a very difficult position.”

“Nobody likes wearing masks,” Geigenmiller added. “Students are constantly told to adjust masks, practice social distancing, and then often quarantine if exposed to COVID-19. It’s created daily gyrations that are wearing down everyone involved.”

Geigenmiller also believes the pandemic has “created a massive mental health crisis for many, and especially our children.”

“It has stressed out our children, our teachers, our parents and our administrators,” he said.

If elected to the school board, Geigenmiller said he would “work with other school boards and reach out to Olympia legislators to do their jobs and not allow the executive branch to dominate COVID-19 policy.”

“My issue stems from the process,” he said regarding the board’s COVID-19 mitigation efforts. “We’ve been a state driven by too many chief executive mandates, and not enough legislative checks and balances. Many states drafted COVID legislation that expired once certain health benchmarks were met, and I think Washington state should have done the same thing.”

As a board member, Geigenmiller said he would reach out to people and help them feel welcome.

“I want to do this job because I feel I can represent those who don’t feel represented right now,” he said. “I think I can add great value with districtwide communications, and work with existing board members to promote our great schools.”

Originally from San Antonio, Texas, Geigenmiller and his wife, Liz, a paraeducator for the Camas School District, have raised their four sons in Camas. Geigenmiller has served as a Little League and soccer coach for more than 12 years and said his favorite memory of living in Camas was watching the Camas High Papermakers football team — which included one of his own sons — win the 2019 state championship.

In his campaign literature and an interview with The Post-Record, the candidate has shared some of the struggles he and his family are currently experiencing.

“My wife, Liz, who is battling stage 4 peritoneal cancer is in the fight of her life right now,” Geigenmiller said. “Her diagnosis came four weeks after I filed to run for school board. The diagnosis has devastated us and our four sons, and it took all my extra energy to help her stay alive. By mid-August I was ready to withdraw from the race, but my wife said, ‘No, we’re not letting cancer beat us, so you keep going.'”

Geigenmiller said this story demonstrates what he and his family are all about: “We have taken many hits over the years, and we keep pushing forward,” he noted. “My youngest son is a junior at (Camas High School), and, if elected, I will serve most of that first term with children out of our system. I am running to do my part to ensure the district stays as strong as it was in 2002 when (my son) Brendan started kindergarten with Diane Loghry.”

When he’s not campaigning or running Lacamas Magazine, Geigenmiller is with his family and friends, playing sports, hiking, walking on Camas trails and having people over for dinner. Geigenmiller also enjoys supporting small businesses in Camas’ historic downtown, especially the Liberty Theatre, Natalia’s Cafe and Navidi’s.

 

Position 2: Incumbent Erika Cox

Camas School Board incumbent Erika Cox is committed to the idea that strengthening our public education will, in the end, benefit the entire community.

“Strong schools build strong communities,” Cox recently told The Post-Record. “I have been on the Camas School Board the past three years, and the reason I serve is because I believe in the power of public education in changing the trajectory of a student’s life.”

Cox points to Camas, the community where she and her husband, Ryan, have raised their three children for the past 16 years, as a great example of a community made stronger by its acclaimed school district.

“In Camas, if we haven’t met, it’s likely we know someone in common because, between city opportunities, sports and schools, the community closeness and our connections are what keep us here,” Cox said what she loves most about living in Camas. “We are neighbors with diverse stories and unique backgrounds. I appreciate the collective support and camaraderie of our schools and our Camas kids in their clubs, arts and sports.”

Before becoming a school board member in 2019, Cox had ample experience as a Camas School District parent — two of her children graduated from Camas High after attending K-12 schools in the Camas School District and her youngest is a sophomore at Camas High School this year — as well as an avid volunteer, serving on parent-teacher association (PTA) boards at Prune Hill Elementary, Dorothy Fox Elementary and Skyridge Middle schools; as a member of the Citizens Advisory Council to the school board; and as president of the Camas Educational Foundation. Cox also served for several years on the city of Camas’ Salary Commission.

“(Having) consistently attended city council meetings and workshops, I’m able to partner and ask the right questions in order to collaborate in an effective and transparent manner,” Cox said. “I believe that experience matters and partnerships with our staff and city are key to positive change.”

Asked about the board’s most important responsibilities, Cox said she believes the board must “stay fiscally and financially sound as (it) plans and adopts budgets and approves contracts;” help educate elected state officials about how their proposed legislation might impact Camas students; and to hire a new superintendent who will “manage the district and continue to evolve public education in Camas.”

Voters will decide the makeup of the Camas School Board in the Nov. 2 General and Special Election. The two newly elected board members will be sworn into their roles during the first board meeting in December and will have a say in the selection of the school district’s next superintendent.

‘It was a shock’: Cox on outcry over COVID mandates equity policy

After 16 years’ worth of volunteer work within the Camas School District and three years as an elected member of the Camas School Board, Cox said she was caught off guard when a small but very vocal group of community members showed up to Camas School Board meetings this spring to rail against the board’s commitment to COVID-19 mitigation strategies and the district’s equity, diversity and inclusion policy.

“It was a shock in May,” Cox said, referring to a May 10 school board meeting that saw several commenters shouting at the board and refusing to wear face coverings. “We had folks that weren’t happy about the pandemic and the COVID mandates … but the contentiousness (at the May meeting) was a shock to me because, in all my years in Camas, I have never seen that type of communicating with board members.”

Cox said she is proud of the way the district has handled the pandemic over the past 18 months.

“Because of our mitigation strategies, our schools have remained fully open, with students back in the classroom five days a week since the fall,” she said. “Back in the spring of 2021, we were the first district (in Southwest Washington) to get our kindergartners back in the classroom, followed by other elementary grades and then our secondary students. Our district led the county in having students back in the classroom while following mandated safety protocols.”

Those safety protocols, Cox added, were not decided at the local level but, rather, were part of Gov. Jay Inslee’s emergency proclamation orders.

“We have followed the state mandates in order to continue to receive funding and have worked with families and students so that students and staff can remain in buildings, in person, while staying healthy and safe,” she said.

Several community members who have shown up to Camas School Board meetings since the highly charged May 10 meeting have continued to rail against the district’s equity policy, enacted in 2018 after extensive input from families, students and staff. Many have jumped on a national trend promoted in far-right media and by former president Donald Trump, that bashes “critical race theory” without fully explaining what the theory is or how it applies to K-12 school students.

“Critical race theory is a law school level curriculum created in the mid-1970s for adults in law school who are studying the theory of systemic racism,” Cox said. “In the Camas, critical race theory is not a curriculum being taught in our (K-12) schools. We are focused on Camas students and Camas data to lead us in what policies will allow the greatest amount of student success and achievement. … We are focused on our students and what they need to learn and grow for positive student outcomes.”

Cox said that, as a school board member, she will “never not think about every single student’s success,” and that is why she supported the district’s equity, diversity and inclusion policy. “In our equity forums, we hear from actual students. And we hear from students who are afraid, who are being called names walking down the hall.”

Cox believes in the power of in-person communication and of trying to have a conversation with her constituents about these types of highly charged issues. Post-pandemic, Cox would like to see district officials host more in-person listening posts and other opportunities for Camas School District families to engage with their school board members.

“We’re going to start going to PTA meetings and just listen to see what’s going on,” Cox said of the school board. “We do understand that people need to be heard. We’re here for that. I am available if people have a question or want to have a conversation.”

‘Willingness to listen and serve’

If reelected, Cox would also work to make sure the school district can remain fiscally sound while planning for the future and trying to retain the district’s most experienced teachers.

“School funding has shifted in our state in the last five years and currently our legislature funds 75 percent of the Camas budget,” Cox said. “We have some of the most qualified and experienced teachers in the state. Employing the high level of caliber of educators in Camas allows us to provide the type of programming and opportunities that draws families to our district and parents appreciate. Having an experienced staff in this current state funding model, also means a greater gap between the funding we receive for teachers and the cost of compensation because of how the legislature has set up their funding model. We want highly qualified teachers in Camas, we want them to stay here, and we will need advocacy in Olympia to partner in supporting educational outcomes that our parents and our community want and have come to expect.”

Outside her role as a school board member, Cox — an Oregon native and Oregon State University graduate who said she was drawn to Camas for its quality schools and investments in parks and open spaces — works full-time as an account supervisor for a global communications firm. In her spare time, she loves attending comedy shows, going to live concerts, golfing, listening to audible books and podcasts while walking her 13-year-old Labrador retriever, Casey, and frequenting businesses in downtown Camas, including her three favorites: Truly Scrumptious, the Camas Bike Shop and Grains of Wrath.

 

Position 2: Challenger Jeremiah Stephen

Stephen, who opened his State Farm insurance company in Vancouver in 2018 after moving to the area from Alaska, said running for the Camas School Board was his way of being a part of the solution.

“I have an invested interest in being a community member here in Camas, as well as a parent of a student,” Stephen told The Post-Record via email this week. “Nothing bothers me more than opinions without solutions. This is my effort to be a part of the solution to issues that concern me.”
As a small business employer with more than 25 years’ experience, Stephen said he knows and understands the value of a customer, and believes, if elected to the board, that he would value all stakeholders’ perspectives. 

Asked to describe what he believed to be the school board’s most important responsibilities, Stephen said he would list “listening to the parents and the community about what is important to them as we educate all our children and our future community members” as the No. 1 responsibility, followed by “hiring a superintendent and then giving that person the direction they need to follow, which will execute the will of the board to educate our kids based on academics versus opinions, while maintaining a budget that supports our schools.” 

Finally, he said, he believes the board is responsible for “ensuring our teachers are supported to be able to deliver the type of education that will challenge our kids to think critically and strive to improve themselves to be contributing members of society however they choose.” 

If elected to the board, Stephen said he would focus on what he considers the three most critical issues facing Camas schools in the next five years: “Ensuring our parents and students are heard and giving them a voice in our school district to continue guiding our district as a community; “teaching and challenging our kids to learn the basics of education that will allow them to excel in their next adventure in their life so they are prepared to be contributing members of their communities;” and “ensuring our teachers are supported to be able to teach our kids … basics necessary to excel at the next level.”
Stephen said he would accomplish this by “encouraging teachers to do this without their personal bias, agenda or political views … to give our young people a chance to form their own opinions with the tools they have been taught.” 

On COVID-19 precautions and equity policies

Asked to talk about how he thinks the Camas School District has handled the COVID-19 pandemic and what he would tell people who have shown up to school board meetings in opposition to COVID prevention strategies designed to lower transmission rates inside Camas schools, Stephen gave a one-sentence response, saying: “I believe in the freedom of medical choices for each and every individual.” 

The term “medical freedom” is often used by groups that oppose mandatory vaccinations. The city of Battle Ground in northern Clark County, for example, recently voted down a proposed “medical freedom ordinance” that would have prohibited the city from requiring its employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19. Likewise, protesters taking part in statewide “Stop the Vaccine Mandate” rallies often cry out for “medical freedom” or have signs calling for “medical freedom” from mask and vaccine mandates. 

Several of the people who have shown up to Camas School Board meetings in recent months to voice their disapproval of the district’s COVID-19 mitigation strategies also have voiced opposition to the district’s 3-year-old equity, diversity and inclusion policy, stating falsely that the policy includes a graduate-school-level theory known as “critical race theory” or “CRT,” which they believe, without any justification or proof, teaches children to be racist or hateful toward one another. 

Asked his opinion on this recent national backlash over CRT, which made its way to Camas School Board meetings in the spring and summer of 2021, Stephen said he “looks forward to hearing examples of where these racial discrimination issues exist in (the Camas School District) so we can resolve them swiftly, so our students can feel safe at school.”
Stephen added: “While there may be racial issues in our district, I would need to better understand those particular issues. I find greater value in finding the root cause to a problem and then implementing a solution that deals with that specific issue.” 

Finding ‘the true meaning of community’ in Camas

Stephen and his wife have two children enrolled in the Camas School District, both of whom are involved in sports and extracurricular activities, and the school board candidate said he has never experienced a town quite like Camas. 

“Upon arriving in Camas, I felt I had experienced for the first time the true meaning of community,” Stephen said. “I’ve never experienced anything quite like a Camas football game. Community galore comes out to support our students.”

“I also really enjoyed volunteering to see how well our high school students performed in the DECA program compared with other school districts,” he said, adding that his favorite things to do during his free time are spend time with his family and volunteering in the Camas community. 

“I visit local Camas businesses every chance I get,” Stephen said. “My wife loves downtown Camas. She says that she feels like she’s in a Hallmark moving every time we visit the quaint (downtown business district).” 

If he could tell voters one last thing before they cast their ballots for the Nov. 2 election, it is this: “I’d like voters to know that I’m simply standing up and volunteering as a response to my family’s own observations and what I’m hearing from other community members is needed in Camas School DIstrict,” Stephen said. “I realize that I can’t possibly know every opinion or thought that exists around the district, but I do believe that the outcome of this election will answer the questions I have about what our community wants. Whether I agree with what it needs or not isn’t mine to decide alone, but I am giving our community another option.”