A mix of well over a hundred teachers, parents, and students showed up at the district headquarters in SoDo Wednesday, Oct. 27, for a rally on a quickly darkening, drizzly evening. A number of speeches were given under the partially covered colonnade in front of a red wall — on the other side of that wall the Seattle Public Schools (SPS) board was in a budget session addressing a $28.1 million loss of revenue due to enrollment decline and eyeing an estimated gap of $78 million for the 2022–2023 school year.
The rally was organized by Seattle Education Association (SEA) leadership in conjunction with the Special Education PTSA (SEPTSA). The protest was in response to word that there would be 50 schools affected by special education staffing adjustments — which SEPTSA reported on their blog. With the slogan “Needs Before Numbers,” the speakers at the rally criticized the impact of these moves at specific schools and a general lack of parent and teacher involvement in staffing decisions. Attendees also questioned whether a disproportionate amount of the 3,440 students that have left the district since 2019 were receiving appropriate special education services.
Tess Bath, a special education instructional assistant at Highland Park’s Social Emotional Learning (SEL) program, addressed the crowd warmly. “It’s really nice to be here with all y’all. We’ve been crying a lot and it feels really healing to just share space.” The start of the 2021–2022 school year, on the heels of two COVID-disrupted years, has been brutal on educators, and Bath read from a letter she’d sent to the district about how disruptive staffing changes can be in her line of work. “SEL is built on consistent and trusting relationships. To sever those would alter the very foundation of our program and our ability to do our jobs and serve our students … They deserve to have enough support to meet their IEP [Individual Education Program] goals, access their LRE [Least Restrictive Environment], and be seen as a priority by their school district.”
The disruption that occurs when a single educator is required to leave their school and the relationships they’ve built is incalculable. But given the context of a pandemic, a massive budget shortfall, and a special education system that favors white students, some have expressed doubts about the timing of this rally, and the information that catalyzed it.
Advanced learning programs first made an appearance in Seattle schools during the 1960s with the adoption of the “Policy for the Education of Able Learners.” The program was created with the intent of providing every student with an education that would “challenge [their] maximum ability and meet [their] individual needs.” However, after introducing school busing in the 1970s, the district used this program as an incentive to keep white parents who opposed racial integration from pulling their children out of Seattle schools. This program provided select white students with an education separate from their Black and Brown peers, perpetuating a segregated school system.
Throughout Washington state, schools are required to provide “highly capable programs” for students they deem “gifted.” The state defines gifted as “students who perform or show potential for performing at significantly advanced academic levels when compared with others of their age, experiences, or environments.” The state allocates funds for each school district and, in return, school districts must abide by the state Legislature’s policies regarding basic education, which were redefined in 2011 to include programs for highly capable students. However, as you will see, these programs are built upon a foundation of white supremacy and constructed with the intent to perpetuate the segregation of schools on the basis of race and socioeconomic status.
Brandon Hersey was appointed to the Seattle Public Schools Board to represent District 7 after Betty Patu resigned in 2019. Hersey, who was raised in a home of Black educators, currently lives in Rainier Beach and teaches second grade at Rainier View Elementary in Federal Way. Before becoming a teacher, Hersey’s experience in education policy included working for the Obama Administration as a policy analyst focusing on children and family issues.
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.
On March 19, Michelle Sarju announced her candidacy for the Seattle Public Schools (SPS) District 5 School Board Director seat. SPS District 5 includes most of the downtown area from the Sound to Lake Washington and, specifically, the neighborhoods of Capitol Hill, the Chinatown/International District, First Hill, Leschi, Madison, and the Central District. Outgoing District 5 Board Director Zachary DeWolf has been one of those who have endorsed Sarju as her campaign launched.
In an interview with the Emerald, Sarju reflected on her professional life and how she feels it has prepared her to step into this role at this particular, historic moment. She also spoke about why she thinks it’s important the board includes a Black resident from the Central District who has had three children in SPS.
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Morning Update Show — Thursday, March 18
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On Friday, Feb. 26, Seattle Public School (SPS) District leaders for the second time announced a presumptive return date for a segment of its student population — despite not having an agreement with the union that represents teachers and other staff, the Seattle Education Association (SEA).
On Dec. 5, 2020, SPS Superintendent Denise Juneau caused SEA to cry foul when she announced a recommendation that students in pre-K through first grade and students in moderate to intensive special education service pathways should return to in-person on March 1. Later in the month, the Seattle School Board unanimously voted in support of Juneau’s aspirational reopening date, and bargaining teams began in earnest to sort through the many details involved in coming to an agreement with the union. In the meantime, a vocal minority of Seattle’s parents mounted pressure on the union to accept this date as though it were a given.
Then, at around 5 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 26, the last school day before their projected reopening date of March 1, teachers were again thrown for a loop when the headline on SPS’ website read, “Students in PreK-12 Intensive Service Pathways and Preschool Students Returning In-Person March 11.” This time, the school board voted (with Brandon Hersey the lone dissenting vote) to classify staff members who work with these returning students as essential workers.
For a district preaching equity, the division of resources is suspect
There’s an agreed-upon rule in the Seattle area, which is that when school levies come up, voters pass them without hardly a second thought. Levies aren’t a perfect way to fund critical infrastructure like schools and public safety, but it’s one of the few tools that Washington lawmakers and public servants have; without an income or capital gains tax, it’s up to the voters to continually agree to tax themselves to fund projects.Continue reading When does Rainier Beach High School Get Its Turn?→
This year’s election will fundamentally change the way public education happens in Seattle. Three of the seven school board seats are up for election with only one incumbent running, the Mayor’s race is open with no incumbent (unless Mayor Murray declares a write-in candidacy), and the two at-large City Council seats are also up for election with only one incumbent running. With change being imminent to City Hall and the Seattle School District there is an opportunity to press a racial equity education agenda and reshape education in our city.Continue reading Voters Must Turn Out for Seattle’s School Board Election→