Two candidates hoping to represent District 5 in the Northshore School District share differing platforms about the issues directly impacting 24,00 students and 35 schools.
Amy Felt, an attorney based in Woodinville with five school-aged children, is challenging the eight-year incumbent Amy Cast for a spot on the Northshore School Board.
As a mother who watched her children in Zoom classes, Felt said, she was a strong advocate of returning students to the classroom sooner than Northshore School District allowed. She noted that Lake Washington School District returned to in-person learning far earlier than NSD.
“There's a level of distrust that I think has developed in our district the last year and a half,” Felt said. “We’re hearing ‘we can’t do this,’ and yet parents are seeing it done elsewhere.”
When classrooms fully reopened this fall, Cast said, students and staff members faced the reality of returning to a new sense of “normal.” She said the school board helped put in place different procedures so schools could continue to offer in-person learning.
“I've taken the pandemic three days at a time because circumstances seem to change so quickly,” Cast said.
Upon the return to in-person learning this fall, she said, the district recorded an increase in participation for athletics and other extracurriculars. One of the ASB presidents told Cast that the school had sold almost twice as many tickets to homecoming than a normal year, she noted.
Not only did the board apply safety procedures, Cast said, but they also wanted to find out the academic level of each student. The first couple weeks of classes were dedicated to testing, she said.
“That work in September was really important for teachers to be able to judge where students are and what they need,” Cast said.
According to Felt, the district had little to no plans for students needing to quarantine because of COVID-19 positive tests during the first few weeks of school. The students did not receive live instruction from teachers, she said, but instead a few worksheets and activities.
“As we're navigating this pandemic, there are a lot of decisions that are being made that directly impact our students and our families,” Felt said. “If you don’t happen to have children in the district, it’s hard to fully understand how those decisions and policies are impacting our students.”
Cast said recovery services for special education students are underway. This allows students to participate in extra sessions with specialists to fill any learning gaps caused by remote learning, she noted.
Students in special education were one of the most impacted groups during the pandemic, Cast said. The department is currently underfunded, she noted.
She estimates about one-third of the proposed levy that will go to a vote in 2022, equaling around $3 million, will go toward special education deficits.
“The more teachers we can recruit and retain, the more services we can provide in a timely manner,” Cast said. “Often it comes down to resources—human resources—in order to get this done.”
For some students in special education, she said, they need a staff member to be one-on-one with them throughout the day. Cast said this essentially requires the school to pay one teacher’s salary per student.
Felt added that the level of special education services is not yet satisfactory. After speaking with families who have children with special needs, Felt said, she is pushing to provide more consistency for students.
“Families feel like they get shuffled from person to person,” she said. “There's no kind of consistency with meeting the needs of their kids.”
Felt said she thinks this could be resolved by appointing a counselor or specialist to each student. It would be someone who follows them throughout their educational journey until graduation, she noted.
“I hear from families that they’re having to hire advocates or even having to hire an attorney to get the services that their child needs,” she said. “It's troubling to me that we have to go those lengths in order to provide needed services to our kids.”
Both candidates emphasized the importance of improving mental health services for students and families in the district.
Cast emphasized a program called UW Forefront Suicide Training for students at Woodinville, Bothell, Inglemoor and North Creek high schools. The training will focus on student-to-student and staff member-to-staff member reporting of suicide warning signs, she said.
“Based off the year and a half we've all had, it is really important for these programs to roll out,” Cast said.
A few years ago, Felt said, one of her children came home from school and told her a friend left a note saying they wanted to die by suicide. Her child didn’t know to report the incident to an adult, she said.
“We need to make sure our teachers and our staff are trained to know what to do, but we also need to make sure kids are trained too,” Felt said.
If elected, Felt said, she would prioritize passing policies and starting programs that aim to deliver equitable education for all NSD students.
As an assistant state attorney general, Felt said, she advocated for children caught in the middle of custody disputes. To continue of her advocacy work, she is fighting to close the gap between disparities in special education and minority groups.
“Everyone who is running this election cycle has ample professional and community volunteer experience,” Felt said. “I think the biggest difference that sets me apart, unlike the incumbents, is that as a parent. I’m living the policies and decisions that they’re making for our children, students and families.”
Cast said her goals for reelection include creating a climate in the district that allows students to feel seen, heard and valued. She is also interested in forming systems to record how the board is using resources in order to be more transparent.
“My hope is that residents vote for me in order to continue the momentum we have, not only in innovating Northshore and improving instruction for each student, but also the momentum we have recovering from the pandemic,” Cast said.