by Ari Robin McKenna
On the day many pre K–12 students across the city were returning to in-person, hybrid learning, a petition brought by a group of three parents seeking to recall the entire Seattle Public Schools (SPS) Board was dismissed. King County Superior Court Judge Mafé Rajul’s ruling on Monday, April 19, found that that none of the 11 charges raised by three SPS parents, Emily Cherkin, Jennifer Crow, and Beverly Goodman, merited a petition to proceed.
The court hearing held via Zoom on Friday considered the sufficiency of the 11 charges made about the SPS board. Elected leaders in the state of Washington can be recalled for “malfeasance, misfeasance, or violation of the oath of office.” and a recall can proceed if the hearing determines there is sufficient evidence. If the charges had not been dismissed by Rajul, the recall petitioners would then have had to collect signatures, needing “25% of the total number of votes cast for all candidates.”
Yet the court’s role in the recall process, as described in the ruling, is to “ensure that the recall process is not used to harass public officials by subjecting them to frivolous or unsubstantiated charges.” First, the court determines if the evidence for each charge has been “factually” substantiated to have the initial appearance (“prima facie”) of being true, and then the court determines whether there is a charge that is legally sufficient for the recall to proceed.
Of the 11 complaints brought by the three parents, only one was deemed factually substantiated enough to be legally considered: “The Board delaying in-person educational opportunities to students during the COVID-19 pandemic compared to other school districts.” Cherkin, Crow, and Goodman relied on “a number of news articles” supporting this position, yet when the court looked at the legality of this claim, it concluded in its ruling that, “the Board did not exercise its discretion in a manner which was arbitrary, unreasonable, or untenable.”
The board members named in the petition were Liza Rankin (District 1), Lisa Rivera-Smith (District 2 Member-at-Large), School Board President Chandra Hampson (District 3), Zachary DeWolf (District 5), Leslie Harris (District 6) and School Board Vice President Brandon Hersey (District 7). Eden Mack (District 4), who resigned in early January, was not not named, nor was her school board-appointed replacement, Erin Dury, sworn in on March 24. All SPS board directors do not receive a salary, but they can be compensated $50 per day for working on district matters, up to a maximum of $4,800 a year.
In the concluding words of Judge Rajul’s announcement yesterday, she acknowledged one of the group’s 11 concerns but also noted that the school board did not take this concern lightly: “The Court is understanding and sympathetic of parents’ concerns with children in the Seattle Public School District being subjected to remote learning, and the continuous delays in returning the children to in-person learning when other schools were proactive in finding solutions for children to return to class. The Court recognizes the harm this has caused the children, and notes the Board itself recognizes the problems by acknowledging that online learning environments in no way can be compared to what children get when they spend time with each other in physical space, as well as acknowledging that certain populations of children need more than a computer.”
Ari Robin McKenna worked as an educator and curriculum developer in Brooklyn, NY; Douala, Cameroon; Busan, South Korea; Quito, Ecuador; and Seattle, WA before settling in Dunlap (just north of Rainier Beach). He writes about education for the South Seattle Emerald. You can contact him through his website.
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