As some students in the Northshore School District return to in-person learning on a hybrid schedule, a group of parents claim the board members have not done enough to get kids back into the classroom.
Five district parents filed petitions on April 2 to the King County Elections Office to recall all five members of the school board. Led by full-time working mother Dominique France, parents Eve Jakoboski, Keith Johnson, Daniel Moen and Byron Stoeser formally initiated the process with support from the Washington Coalition 4 Kids.
France argues the board failed to evolve with new state guidelines as more information was learned about the COVID-19 pandemic.
“This is not politics. This is our children,” France said. “I am talking to people that are on both sides of the aisle. We would never see eye-to-eye on anything political, but boy do we see eye-to-eye on everything about school.”
During a special meeting April 13, the school board unanimously approved five resolutions to pay the necessary expenses to defend the directors against the recall charges.
The unsatisfied parents are seeking to recall board members Bob Swain, David Cogan, Jacqueline McGourty, Sandy Hayes and Amy Cast. Three of the members are serving terms set to expire in November. The terms for Swain and Cogan end in 2023.
“We have all been working tirelessly for the past year to address the challenges and adjust to the continually changing COVID-19 pandemic world, especially as it relates to supporting and educating our students,” Swain said in a statement from the board. “The claims filed are not supported by the facts.”
According to the district, staff will continue to focus on maintaining the health and safety of the community. The statement argues the petition will ultimately “divert precious taxpayer dollars and staff time.”
NSD was the first district in Washington state to close classrooms and move to fully remote learning in March 2020. The district has been championed as a leader in dealing with the pandemic in schools. However, France claims other school districts have been able to bring more students back to in-person instruction compared to Northshore. She said the board has not tried diligently enough to bring students back to in-person instruction.
France, a parent of the Hollywood Hills Elementary School system until last year, has three children in third, fourth and sixth grades. Two of her kids require an Individualized Education Program, or IEP, to receive special education and related services. She said there is no way for her oldest child to learn remotely on odd asynchronous days.
“It's tears, it's fighting, it's chaos,” she said. “I cannot work.”
France elected to pull her children from the school district last year and put them into private school. Since then, the kids have been able to learn in-person all year. As of mid-October, six in 10 independent schools across the nation were operating in-person and just 5% were fully online, according to a survey by the National Association of Independent Schools.
Just because she can afford an independent institution, France said, she could not ignore the suffering of students and parents around her. She started paying a lot more attention to board meetings and phone calls with Superintendent Michelle Reid, she noted.
“None of this is in any insinuation around intelligence. It's around integrity,” France said. “Not one of those five board members, nor Dr. Reid, have any integrity. The issues that they have been hearing and ignoring in lieu of favorable outcomes for the union are atrocious.”
None of the actions taken by the board have demonstrated they are listening to families or doing their jobs, she said. France said the district used excuses about insurance, personal protective equipment, spacing, transportation and scheduling as reasons to keep children home. She argues these unintended consequences are ripple effects of “stupid reopening choices.”
“Until the governor mandated the reopening through his proclamation, our district was delinquent in even updating our reopening plans,” she said. “They did not have reopening the schools as an agenda item on a single board meeting until we orchestrated over 500 people slamming them in two days with emails.”
France said the discussion to reopen school was finally added to the school board agenda for the first time in March 2021. During the meeting, she added, the board neglected to read allowed the majority of submitted public comments. She said this is one example out of 10 claims that demonstrate misfeasance and violate the oath of office for board members.
“They're not aspiring to help our education, they're aspiring to achieve greater political positioning,” France said, referring to the entire school board.
She admits the action of recalling each board member is an almost impossible task to accomplish, since they were elected by citizens in a fair process. France said she tried to support and provide input to the district initially. However, she got tired of being constantly shut down and ignored.
Should a judge rule in favor of the petition, the next step relies on collecting signatures. If approved for circulation, recall supporters will have 180 days to get the recall on the ballot. France said 55% of the votes received at the time of previous elections needs to be gathered in the form of signatures to recall the board members. If enough signatures are collected, the recall will likely be in the November general election.
“I think the odds are low, but needless to say, the grievances are not eliminated by virtue of a recall. They are still there,” she said. “So, we will be working very hard regardless to fix the situation moving forward.”