October Cheers & Jeers

Cheers to the return of cooler, wetter weather. The sudden shift in weather last week provided some much-needed relief for firefighters battling the Nakia Creek Fire north of Camas-Washougal. The fire, which led to “go now” evacuation notices for thousands of Camas-Washougal households, but did not, thankfully, destroy any homes or take any lives, was already at 30% containment when the rains returned on Oct. 21, but fire officials said the forecasted rain would ease fire conditions and “offer relief to firefighters and residents alike.” 

Our second Cheers goes out to all of the people Mister Rogers’ mother would have called “the helpers” — the people who came to their friends’ and neighbors’ rescue last week, when the Nakia Creek wildfire exploded to 10 times its previous size and prompted evacuation notices throughout Camas-Washougal. In interviews with Nakia Creek Fire evacuees, there was one overarching theme that emerged — a deep gratitude for the community members who pitched in with trailers to evacuate goats, sheep and horses; who showed up at an evacuation shelter to see how they might help; who brought new pillows to the shelter so the evacuees might have a little more comfort during a stressful time; and who just decided to do whatever they could do to help their neighbors in need. As Mister Rogers’ mother famously told her young son when he would see scary things in the news: “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” Like Fred Rogers, we are also comforted to know there are so many helpers in the world, and give a heartfelt Cheers to all of those caring people who came out during the Nakia Creek Fire to help the Camas-Washougal community. 

Unfortunately, not everyone is a helper. In fact, as we learned this month, many of our local youth are experiencing ramped up bullying, as well as racist and homephobic slurs during their school days. On Oct. 11, the Washougal School Board’s student representatives told elected school officials that they have heard reports of increased bullying and slurs inside Washougal High School. 

We’ve had a lot of divisions in our school this year,” Washougal High senior Megan West told the school board. “There have been frequent occurrences (of students) bringing others down and treating people as less than human lately, and bullying due to sexual orientation, race and other key parts of people’s identities.”

Frustratingly, the high school principal, Mark Castle, declined to answer the Post-Record’s questions about the ramped-up bullying. Instead, he pointed to a school district press release, which gave a pat answer to a convoluted and seriously concerning issue, stating that “the high school is its own community, with celebrations and challenges” and that school leaders “believe in listening to students and hearing their real experiences, and having them be part of the solutions.”

The increase in bullying obviously deserves a “Jeers,” but so does the refusal of high school and school district leaders to clearly define how they intend to address the issue, prevent further bullying and keep students safe.

West and her Washougal High student-representative peers — all of whom deserve several Cheers for having the courage to bring this issue into the public conversation — said more Washougal High students are reporting they feel stressed at school this year, and like they don’t belong. “I think, overall, there’s a very high stress level,” West told the school board. 

Research shows this type of school-based bullying can seriously impact students. According to the PACER’s National Bullying Prevention Center (NBPC), “students who experience bullying are at increased risk for depression, anxiety, sleep difficulties, lower academic achievement and dropping out of school.” Bullied students also are, according to the NBPC, “twice as likely as non-bullied peers to experience negative health effects such as headaches and stomachaches.” 

We all know — or should know by now — that reports of school-based bullying, as well as racist and homophobic and transphobic slurs, skyrocketed during the Trump administration’s time in office. As the Washington Post pointed out in February 2020, “Since Trump’s rise to the nation’s highest office, his inflammatory language — often condemned as racist and xenophobic — has seeped into schools across America. Many bullies now target other children differently than they used to, with kids as young as 6 mimicking the president’s insults and the cruel way he delivers them.”

There is no doubt Trump and his devotees have fanned the flames of division — especially division over race, immigration status, sexual identify and gender — and now we’re seeing that same divisive behavior play out in our schools. In fact, a research study that surveyed more than 150,000 across Virginia’s 132 school districts found that students living in areas that went for Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential election were nearly 10% “more likely to be teased for their race or ethnicity” than students living in areas that went for Hillary Clinton in 2016. Jeers to that.
Fortunately, there are evidence-based practices Washougal School District leaders can implement to help students feel safe and prevent more bullying inside Washougal’s schools. We can only hope that these efforts will extend into the greater Washougal community and that concerned Washougal High student representatives will continue to shed light on the issue. 

Our final Cheers of the month goes out to Camas City Council member Bonnie Carter, who brought up the issue of sustainability during a recent discussion about the future of Camas’ North Shore area. As we pointed out in our Oct. 13, 2022, editorial, it is well past time for our elected city officials to ensure our community’s public infrastructure and future homes are prepared to withstand the ravages of climate change. During the Camas City Council’s Oct. 17 meeting, Carter said she would like to see “some sustainability options” proposed for the North Shore area. “I’m not sure what that would look like, but I would like to make this something we can be proud of in that arena,” Carter said. Cheers to that.