Three of four Port Angeles School Board candidates spoke about pandemic-related issues, curricula imposed by the state and the risk of gun violence during a League of Women Voters candidate forum.
Incumbent Sarah Methner and challenger Lola Moses for the Position 1 seat, and Mary Herbert, who is vying with Gabi Johnson for the Position 2 seat, attended the online forum on Wednesday.
Johnson, who had originally said she would be available for the forum, told the league volunteers later that she had a prior commitment.
Candidates largely agreed on all questions.
Methner, who has served on the board for 12 years and whose youngest of four children graduated from the district in 2020, urged that voters not change “the way the ship is moving. I think we are doing the right things right now … We have systems in place that are working. We have board members who know what they are doing and are working. We need experience.”
Her challenger, Moses, who has three children now attending schools in the district, said she wants to “continue to strengthen what has been established, but also I have new ideas.”
An enrolled member of the Lower Elwah Tribe, Moses said she has served on the district’s multi-ethnic committee, worked with the Clallam County Juvenile Drug Court, managed state and federal grants and worked on tribal funding.
“I hope to be a voice for students and families in Port Angeles,” Moses said.
Former assistant superintendent Hebert emphasized her experience gleaned from 34 years of teaching and school administration. She spoke of her work in bringing the full-day kindergarten program into the district as well as handling district downsizing when local mills closed.
“I’m passionate about quality education,” she said.
The candidates agreed that the school district had responded well to the issues raised by the pandemic, saying they were satisfied with how the district, which re-instituted in-person learning this school year, is monitoring its policies to keep children safe.
“I know our school district has done a phenomenal job of implementing safety measures,” Methner said.
“In addition to the ones we had last year with the distancing and the masking, we have now added COVID testing and a data dashboard where parents and community members can go check and see what schools might be having some problems,” she said.
“We have nurses at every school which is something that really comes out of our levy dollars … we also have Seaview Academy, which is available for any student that doesn’t feel comfortable being in our public schools,” Methner continued.
They also spoke about challenges in helping students who have fallen behind — or have dropped out during the pandemic.
“This last year of school that students had was really broken up,” Herbert said.
“They started with some time in school, then out, then they started with a hybrid model, and there was learning loss. The district is taking a lot of steps to bring students up to standard, but also they are taking students where they are, and that’s a critical step in any learning strategy.”
Moses said that, as a parent of three students, she was impressed “with what we have tried to do in a challenging time. We are trying to be innovative, and we’re trying to learn from what has happened, and we’re trying to bring our students up to speed not only in the schools but also in their social and emotional skills and how they cope with what we have been through as a country, nation and world.”
Candidates agreed curricula should be guided by parents and local districts — and that teachers should be allowed to teach — but said that, when legislatures dictate a specific curriculum, there is little local school boards can do.
The question posed to them was primarily about a recent legislative mandate involving age-appropriate sex education.
“The school board is often contained by what happened in the Legislature,” Methner said. “If you ask me what I think about those laws, that is a little bit of a different answer, which is I believe teachers are professionals that know what students need to learn … I’m in full support of leaving teaching to our well-trained faculty.”
Hebert said the role of a district school board is to “reflect the community’s wishes.
“If a decision is made at the state level and a curriculum is mandated, I believe it takes away the interests of our community … but we have to live within that framework,” she said.
Moses said that, as a school board member, when questions of state-mandated curriculum arise, she “would be able to support the school district but also remember that parents and families have to have a voice at the table.”
In regard to the issue of the risk of gun violence and the school’s actions to minimize it, Methner pointed to updates of schools to strengthen security and ongoing active-shooter drills.
“This really is a national question,” Methner said.
She added that the “town was really kind on our last capital levy, so we’re going to be able to harden our schools and take steps from there.”
Said Moses: “We have been blessed that we haven’t had to deal with this type of tragedy, and I do believe our staff is trained and will continue to be trained and collaborate with local law enforcement and emergency services.
“Continuing to train and be prepared is the best thing we can do as a community,” she said.
Hebert advocated continuing to harden school campuses as well as “being very conscious of counseling, mental health, responding quickly to bullying and behaviors that we know can escalate a situation and create harmful situations.”
For a recording of the entire forum, click here.
Reporter Ken Park can be reached at [email protected].