During a somber meeting that followed Tuesday’s shooting at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, the Edmonds School Board approved a revised student fees and fines policy under which students’ grades, transcripts or diplomas can no longer be withheld if a student has an outstanding fine or fee.
Superintendent Dr. Gustavo Balderas, during his report, addressed the incident in Texas, where a shooter killed 19 children and two teachers. “Today’s a tragic day,” he said, adding, “that makes 212 mass shootings in the United States this year per the Gun Violence Archive as of last Tuesday” and “27 of those occurred in schools per NPR.” He also noted that there have been 119 school shootings since 2018 and in 2021 there was 693 mass shootings in the U.S.
“I say that because we have a moral obligation and a professional obligation to keep our kids safe each and every day,” Balderas added. “We have 21,000 kids on our campuses that we worry about each and every day because if kids don’t feel safe they cannot learn. This is not a partisan issue, this is an issue of humanity and taking care of our babies. When you have elementary kids being murdered, we have a problem in our system. We have a problem that we need to really address.”
These issues, he said, include mental health and also gun laws “because this doesn’t happen in every country. And I just want to call that out because this is not a partisan issue. As a superintendent, I have to be in the middle — whether I’m being dragged to the right or the left — I have to be in the middle because I have to be here for each and every student.”
Balderas noted that the prevalence of mass shootings in the U.S. have to be addressed as a society. Citing the more than 200 such incidents this year alone, he added, “There’s something wrong and we need to really wake up our elected officials to do something that helps support our future” and those of the nation’s students, he said.
“Our hearts and prayers are to the families of Uvalde and it’s close to me because my parents are from a border town really close to there,” Balderas said. “I just say this because again, we care about our kids but we’re doing something wrong and enough is enough.”
Several of the directors and student advisors echoed the superintendent’s comments about mass shootings in the U.S., noting that there are systemic national issues that urgently need to be addressed, including providing students with more health and mental wellness resources to help prevent such incidents.
The Edmonds School District hosted a virtual town hall in February that discussed a variety of topics concerning student safety measures, including threats and weapon safety, protocols for responding to concerns, drills for evacuation or sheltering in place and emergency preparedness plans in the event of a campus lockdown. The district plans to regularly hold additional town hall meetings for students and parents in the future related to safety and other important issues.
Director Deborah Kilgore said she would like the school board to receive an updated student safety report from the district at one of its upcoming regular business meetings.
Assistant Superintendent Dana Geaslen provided a COVID-19 update to the board that highlighted case counts have continued to trend upward recently. The Snohomish Health District reported that current case counts over a seven-day rolling period were 263 per 100,000 residents. “We’ll keep an eye on that,” Geaslen said, “that’s concerning.”
The positivity rate for all tests administered in Snohomish County had increased to 18%. Geaslen said the actual positivity rate is likely even greater than what was reported, adding, “We do think that we’re not getting all of the positive cases reported with so many home tests and those kind of things.” She noted 70-80% of rapid tests are not captured by the COVID-19 surveillance system that relies on people to report those results to the county.
School districts throughout South Snohomish County are experiencing higher numbers of infections. “It’s still Omicron (variant) and it’s all these derivatives of Omicron,” Geaslen added. “We don’t know what’s going to happen in the fall and if there will be another variant but we’re keeping a close eye on that.”
As of Monday, there were 102 positive cases in the Edmonds School District. “So case counts are on the rise in the district,” she said. In the last 14 days there have been 527 positive cases reported and the positivity rate increased to 12.3%.
Due to the increased cases, the Snohomish Health District has recommended implementing mask mandates or remote learning for 10 days in classrooms that exhibit the higher COVID-19 cases and those determined by a number of variables to have an outbreak status.
The school district has opted to implement mask mandates in such situations. Geaslen told directors, “There’s 11 classrooms currently under this status and many are expected to end” those 10-day mask mandates “by the end of this week.”
The district is continuing to support families and staff with testing needs by providing PCR and rapid types of tests for COVID-19. Those in need can contact either their school/facility or call the district’s centralized phone line at 425-431-1900 for services. People experiencing symptoms are advised to stay home, and the district is requesting that those who test positive for COVID-19 at home report their results to staff.
Directors unanimously approved updating the district’s policy regarding student fees, fines and charges to comply with the Washington State School Directors’ Association’s recent revisions. As a result, school districts can no longer withhold grades or transcripts if a student has an outstanding fine or fee.
The revised policy was first presented to the school board at its April 26 regular business meeting. At that time, directors had asked if the state law required the school district to withhold graduates diplomas due to any outstanding fees, fines or charges, and learned that it does not. Due to concerns about the withholding of diplomas, that option was then eliminated from the district’s updated policy approved Tuesday night.
Students are still responsible for the cost of replacing district materials or property that are lost and unreturned or damaged due to negligence. However, arrangements may be made for the waiver or reduction of fees in certain circumstances.
In other business, the board approved the adoption of recommended reading instructional materials for components of Interactive Read Aloud and Independent Reader’s Workshop in the Highly Capable Program for students in grades 1-6. The curriculum recommendation had been unanimously approved by voting members of the ditrict’s Materials Review and Pilot Committees that consisted of parents, teachers, and administrators from the Highly Capable Program.
Two separate items regarding contracts for the transportation and installation of portable classrooms were approved.
The first item acknowledged acceptance of the completed public works contract with Pacific Mobile Structures for transporting and reinstalling one existing portable classroom unit from Hazelwood Elementary School to Terrace Park Elementary School. The relocation work was completed in September 2021 and the final contract amount was nearly $103,000.
And the second motion that passed awarded a contract of nearly $523,000 to Pacific Mobile Structures for moving three portable classroom units. It will increase the previously reviewed budget to approximately $1.4 million.
The school district currently has two available portable units that will be moved from Sherwood and Westgate Elementary Schools; while the third portable was purchased new in December 2021. The classrooms will be moved to three elementary schools including Terrace Park, Cedar Way and Hilltop Elementary due to additional capacity needs at those locations for the 2022/2023 school year. The transportation and installation work is anticipated to be completed this fall and the project is funded by the 2020 Levy.
“I hope that we’re able to soon pass a bond to build new schools because we are clearly overcapacity and we need to be looking for the future,” said Board President Nancy Katims. Those new schools, she noted, will help meet not only current needs but also the continued population growth that is anticipated throughout the area — particularly with light rail service coming to Mountlake Terrace and Lynnwood. “Portables are a Band-Aid; we need new schools,” she added.
Tuesday’s meeting also included a celebration of this year’s student advisors to the school board. Directors thanked the students for their contributions and service on the board, adding that they provided valuable input and perspectives that helped to inform many of the decisions ultimately made. Several of the advisors said that the experience had improved their public speaking skills in particular. All of the students highlighted various means of personal growth, which they felt had better prepared them as individuals able to engage in issues moving forward throughout their lives and academic pursuits.
Finally, Katims said that Edmonds School District during a recent exit conference with the Washington State Auditor’s Office had received “a complete clean bill of health” regarding its financial situation, accountability and use of federal grants. She noted that result was consistent with the auditor’s findings from the past several years and thanked “all of our staff in the business office in particular who have really done a great job of keeping us fiscally safe and secure.”
— By Nathan Blackwell