CAMAS — In the weeks following a heated May 10 Camas School Board meeting featuring a group of vocal Camas-area residents who railed against what they termed the district’s “woke” agenda, COVID-19 mask mandates, remote learning, and racial justice and equity programs, dozens of Camas parents have written letters and spoken out in defense of the school district and its elected school board officials.
“Please keep in mind that these people are a vocal minority and do not represent the views of the majority of the Camas community. Our family moved here seven years ago specifically for the Camas schools and we wholeheartedly support the board members, the CSD administrators and the teachers, who are all doing a wonderful job,” Camas parent Ken O’Day wrote in a May 24 letter to the school board.
Nearly two dozen parents who have written to the school board and spoken at recent board meetings agree with O’Day’s sentiments.
Camas parent Charity Feb, who said she and her two children contracted COVID-19 early in the pandemic and have had lasting symptoms, or “long COVID,” wrote to the school board after witnessing the speakers at the May 10 meeting — nearly all of whom refused to wear masks per the district’s in-person meeting rules.
“I just want to express my sympathy for what you had to endure last night and to tell you I dearly hope what you witnessed was a very loud minority — about masks, equity education, the (Discover Recovery drug rehabilitation facility being proposed for a building next to a Camas elementary school), all of it,” Feb wrote to the board. “I home school my kids right now simply because I have always wanted to, but I voted for the levy, and I’m rooting for you guys.”
Some of those comments have been from teachers in the district as well as parents. At the board’s June 14 meeting, Camas special education teacher Amy Campbell — Washington’s 2020 Teacher of the Year — spoke during the board’s public comments period and praised the school board and district administrators for supporting her work to improve inclusion and access for all students.
When she began teaching in the district 13 years ago, Campbell said, she saw a copy of an assessment of student learning hanging on a wall, showing clear disparities in academic achievement based on race, ability and income levels.
“We called it an achievement gap, and we had a choice: Armed with this information, we either had to believe it was a failing of our students or a shortcoming of our system,” Campbell said.
Loud crowd shouts outside
The vast majority of parents who spoke during the school board’s June 14 meeting supported the district’s COVID-19 response and its equity, inclusion and diversity policy, which has been in place for nearly three years. As they spoke, a mostly anti-mask and anti-equity policy crowd gathered outside the school board meeting, often interrupting the speakers inside with loud shouts and cheers.
“I’ll see if I can talk louder (than those outside),” said Lisa Bullard, a Camas mother who said she had signed up to speak to the board in person on June 14 to show support for the district’s equity plan.
Noting that she had the privilege of choosing to stay home in comfort instead of coming to speak at a meeting that would likely “be a tense environment to walk into,” Bullard said she believed children learned more from actions than words.
“I can tell (my children) that equity is important … but my words would ring empty if I didn’t show them with my actions, even when it’s uncomfortable.”
Shay Shemesh, who said he has lived in Camas for six years and has three young children attending Camas schools, read his wife’s comments during the June 14 board meeting. He said she was concerned that the people who had spoken during the May 10 and other school board meetings wanted to “spread fear and misinformation to sow discord.”
“If we want to be outraged, perhaps our collective outrage should be directed at racism and how it persists in our schools and our community today — and then we can focus on our efforts in eliminating it,” Shemesh said. “Anti-racism is not anti-white. It is about examining power structures in our society and seeing where and how racism exists today.”
He urged the school board to “stay the course. Do not allow a small group of people as vocal and organized as they may be to speak for the majority in our community who support the goal of equitable education and truly seeing and serving each student.”
“I’m not afraid of anti-racism work. I’m not afraid of equity and inclusion. I think we are better as people and a community because of them,” Shemesh said.