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Whatcom school boards oppose curriculum bills, argue state is undermining local control

Lynden, Meridian school boards write letters against bills mandating inclusive curriculum

Lynden High School's library. House Bill 2331, which has now passed the state Senate and House of Representatives, prohibits school boards from banning the use of instructional materials on the basis that they relate to protected classes. (Hailey Hoffman/Cascadia Daily News)
By Charlotte Alden General Assignment/Enterprise Reporter

Two Whatcom County school boards have passed resolutions opposing two state bills that promote inclusive curriculum and prohibit banning instructional materials that relate to protected classes. 

Both Lynden School Board and Meridian School Board argue the bills are another example of the state encroaching on “local control” — specifically, on a school board’s ability to choose curriculum in consultation with local communities.  

Lynden School Board unanimously passed a letter “vehemently” opposing Senate Bill 5462 and “strongly” opposing House Bill 2331. Meridian School Board also passed a letter in favor of local control, critical of the two bills. 

House Bill 2331 has already passed both chambers. If approved by the governor, the bill would prohibit school boards from banning the use of instructional materials on the basis that they relate to protected classes, like people of color and LGBTQ+ people, unless the content is discriminatory. 

Senate Bill 5462, which has passed the Senate but has not yet passed the House, would require school boards to adopt “inclusive curricula” with the “histories, contributions and perspectives of historically marginalized and underrepresented groups.” It would also require the superintendent of public instruction to develop a screening for “biased content” and ensure diversity, equity and inclusion are incorporated into new and revised state learning standards. 

The bill states that inclusive curricula “have been shown to improve the mental health, academic performance, attendance rates and graduation rates of marginalized communities.”  

Lynden School Board’s letter, passed on Feb. 20, opposed the bills for “undermining the authority of local school boards.” The letter also affirms Lynden School Board’s support for fostering belonging among students and addressing their “diverse needs, abilities, backgrounds and maturity levels.” 

Lynden School Board President Tonya Hickman said the issue boils down to local control. 

“It’s not even the intent of the bills so much,” she said Tuesday, Feb. 27. “It is really just undermining our ability to have local control.” 

Hickman said she thought it was good news that other school boards are opposing the bills, and that the Lynden School Board already values inclusion and “every human being.” 

While first considering a nearly copy-paste resolution from Lynden, Meridian School Board passed a different letter at a Monday, Feb. 26 meeting addressed to local representatives Sen. Sharon Shewmake, Rep. Alicia Rule and Rep. Joe Timmons that said engagement with the community in selecting curriculum and instructional materials is essential. 

“The Meridian Board of Directors supports inclusive curriculum that represents the community in which we serve, but we can’t support Olympia-based legislation that seeks to take away our voice as a community,” the letter reads. Board President Steve Corwin declined to comment further on the letter. 

While the resolutions may be too late to have any effect, the Washington State School Directors’ Association (WSSDA) Director of Strategic Advocacy Marissa Rathbone did communicate feedback from school boards on SB 5462 to legislators. 

In a Feb. 14 email to legislators, Rathbone wrote that WSSDA membership was split on SB 5462 — some believed the bill was in the best interest of students, while others said it threatened local control and could be “problematic within their communities.”  

Elsewhere in Whatcom County, Nooksack Valley School Board, Mount Baker School Board and Bellingham School Board have not considered the bills, board chairs confirmed to CDN. 

Bellingham School Board Chair Douglas Benjamin said the board is more focused on the legislative priorities that they helped create through WSSDA, including more school funding, special education funding and more. 

The Blaine School Board discussed the bills briefly at the Monday, Feb. 26 meeting, but took no collective action.  

Ferndale School Board member Nancy Button brought forward a resolution at a Wednesday, Feb. 28 meeting, but no action was taken on the matter. 

Button said at the meeting she does not want the state telling school boards what they can and cannot choose for curriculum. Board Vice President Peggy Uppiano agreed with Button’s resolution, and said she took issue with the “top-down enforcement and the ability to withhold funding.” 

Student representative Kwabena Ledbetter, a senior at Ferndale High School, said the “elephant in the room” was the politically charged nature of these two bills.  

“We need some way to work together as opposed to this battle that’s becoming more and more political or local versus state,” board chair Kevin Erickson said as they closed out discussion on the topic. 

Charlotte Alden is CDN’s general assignment/enterprise reporter; reach her at; 360-922-3090 ext. 123.

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