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Ferndale School Board debates local control, diversity at heated meeting

Proposal to amend WSSDA positions dies after pushback from student board representatives

People walking towards the Ferndale School.
Ferndale's old and new high school pictured mid-construction. The Ferndale School District Board of Directors considered amendments to Washington State School Directors’ Association's positions that would have altered references to diversity and increased references to local control. (Hailey Hoffman/Cascadia Daily News)
By Charlotte Alden General Assignment/Enterprise Reporter

A Ferndale School Board proposal to change a state school board agency’s positions on issues of local control of curriculum and diversity died Tuesday night, after some heated exchanges between board members. 

School board member Nancy Button brought forward proposed amendments to five of WSSDA’s (Washington State School Directors’ Association) positions and suggested two new proposals — amendments that mainly increased references to the need for local school board control, and eliminated and altered references to equity and diversity.  

WSSDA is a state agency that supports and advocates on behalf of school boards, but it holds no regulatory authority. Its “positions” represent WSSDA’s beliefs and values. As members of WSSDA, all school boards can propose amendments and new positions to the association. 

Dozens of community members showed up to the meeting, with most of the 45 minutes of public comment taken up by parents and community members expressing their concerns and their commitments to diversity. 

Immediately after Button began presenting the amendments, student school board representatives Kwabena Ledbetter, a senior at Ferndale High School, and Gabby Lenssen, a junior at Ferndale High School, criticized the amendments for being redundant and for being about “values,” not local control. 

“This is totally a values issue and we should not parade around like it isn’t a values issue,” Ledbetter said. “I’m getting very sick and tired of hearing people say, ‘Oh local control.’ Local control is very important, we have established we are going to retain it, so now we have to actually talk about what we’re talking about.”

Ledbetter and Lenssen zoned in on amendments to WSSDA’s equity statement that eliminated a reference to “race” and crossed out “we must identify and eliminate any discriminatory practices and prejudices within our state’s public education system.” The amendment justification stated that this line suggests that “we have discriminatory practices and prejudices in our education system.” 

“That is an absurd thing to cross out,” Ledbetter said. 

“What would allowing the perpetuation of harmful and damaging treatment and ideology do for our district and our state as a whole?” Lenssen asked. 

After several minutes, Button cut off the conversation.  

“I actually think we’ve probably heard enough,” she said. “Unless anyone else has differing opinions, it sounds like it’s not receiving support. I’ve done my due diligence by bringing this to the board for your consideration.” 

Board Vice President Peggy Uppiano said at the Tuesday, March 26 board meeting that she continues to be concerned about WSSDA drifting away from the idea of local control. She said she agreed with some of the proposed amendments, especially the addition of “diversity of thought and perspective.” 

These amendments came a meeting after the board considered, but did not vote on or pass, a resolution that would have criticized House Bill 2331 and Senate Bill 5462 for encroaching on local school board control.

Both bills have now passed the Legislature and will prohibit school boards from banning the use of instructional materials on the basis that they relate to protected classes, and will require school boards to adopt “inclusive curricula.”

Earlier in the meeting, Superintendent Kristi Dominguez relayed legal advice she had received on the two bills, and said despite the bills passing, school boards will retain the ability to select and adopt materials, as long as they meet the requirements set out by the state. 

After a continued back and forth on local control, and the importance of inclusive curriculum, Button called the conversation a “wonderful exchange of ideas.” 

“The position proposals are dead, but our board is alive and listening,” she said. 

In a statement to CDN on Wednesday morning, Dominguez said she appreciated the engagement in conversations and the viewpoints of all who spoke at the meeting. 

“This led to a comprehensive understanding of our community’s thoughts and allowed for the board to move forward accordingly,” she said. 

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

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