Washougal board OKs curriculum despite objections

Parent claims videos ‘normalize’ mask-wearing

A video in the Washougal School District's "Mystery Science" curriculum includes an image of people posing for a photograph during the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918. (Screenshot by Doug Flanagan/Post-Record)

The Washougal School Board voted to adopt an elementary school science curriculum during its Sept. 14 meeting despite the objections from a parent, who called the educational platform “biased” due to its inclusion of two videos that promote mask-wearing as an effective means of preventing the spread of COVID-19.

“I want to encourage parents and community members (to speak up because) that is your one small first step, to watch school districts on what they’re adopting,” Washougal resident Brandii Heaward said. “No more going backwards and trying to fight what they already have. It’s hard.”

Heaward protested against two of the curriculum’s “Mystery Doug” videos, titled “Do masks really stop the coronavirus?” and “Has anything like the coronavirus ever happened before?”

“They’re normalizing masks in these videos,” Heaward said. “(One of the videos says), ‘But now wearing a mask almost becomes kind of normal, like wearing socks and shoes.’ Another quote is, ‘Maybe in the future, if people tell stories or make dolls showing children from the 2020s, there will be dolls wearing masks.’

“They also pose questions in these videos, such as, ‘Why do you think these people are wearing masks?’ They were showing historical photos; one, specifically, was from 1918, of five or six people standing in a line with their masks on. One person in the video is wearing a sign on their chest that says, ‘Wear a mask or go to jail.'”

She said the videos are not “appropriate to be shown in school.”

“I think they’re completely biased,” she said. “They don’t say anything about the potential negative sides of masking or how it could affect people or how some people have medical conditions and cannot (wear a) mask. They’re making children feel that (masking) is normal.”

Heaward asked the board members to consider two options: delay the adoption of the curriculum to review the videos in question and consider excluding them from the curriculum now that they are aware that it’s “biased,” or provide an “opt-out” option for parents by allowing them to examine instructional materials before presenting them to their children.

Washougal School District leaders responded by telling her and other concerned parents that they already have a review process in place.

“Parents can review materials,” district assistant superintendent Ranae McMurray said. “If they’re choosing to opt out of a specific curriculum or content area, they would then need to make sure that that is covered in a different way. We’ve had some parents who’ve opted out in the past and they chose to do home schooling for a portion of the day, so that’s an option for families as well. If anybody has any questions about the instructional materials, they can contact me and we can set up a time for them to come in to review those materials if they’re in print or online.”

The district used the curriculum, titled “Mystery Science,” for the first time in 2020-21, according to McMurray.

“Our science liaisons came forward with the curriculum and asked if we could pilot it for a year,” she said. “The teachers used this material last year, and everyone reported that they would like to continue using the materials. We have not (had any questions or concerns from parents).”

The Mystery Science website states that the curriculum “leads students in the doing of science and engineering” by providing “on-the-go lessons that inspire kids to love science.”

“Our liaisons really liked how it’s focused on questions and building inquiry and curiosity in students about science,” McMurray said. “The teachers get a kit with hands-on materials so the kids can actually engage with some of the science experiments and really focus on that age-appropriate, developmental science inquiry. They feel they’re effective and meet their students’ needs and are aligned with the next-generation science standards.”

Board member Jim Cooper said he hadn’t watched the two videos in question at the time of the meeting, but approved of the curriculum as a whole.

“I looked at probably 15 or 20 of (the other videos) and I found them to be engaging, focusing on the curiosity that children have,” he said. “I thought (the curriculum) would be effective, and the teachers seem to like it. The issue raised this evening is new to me, but I think we need to think this through. There may be other materials that some parents find objectionable. I haven’t really thought through that aspect of it in terms of opting out and if a parent knows if they should opt out or not. I think the only way is to get engaged early before the materials are presented to your kids. Bottom line, I was impressed with the program, in broad scope, at least, and I’m supportive of it.”

Board president Cory Chase said the district goes “above and beyond” to make its instructional materials available for parent review and praised McMurray for doing “a great job of making herself accessible to the parents and community (members) who have questions about the curriculum.”

“Board members have had discussions and objections to certain curriculum as it pertains to them personally and their families, me included,” he said. “But I do think we have a process in place that allows us to be transparent. As a parent, I can come in and review what I want to review, and there’s a process in place where if I really want to object to some content, I’m not forced to put my child in a situation where they’re being taught something that I adamantly disagree with. I think that’s the right way to do it.”