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The following is presented as part of The Columbian’s Opinion content, which offers a point of view in order to provoke thought and debate of civic issues. Opinions represent the viewpoint of the author. Unsigned editorials represent the consensus opinion of The Columbian’s editorial board, which operates independently of the news department.

In Our View: Zavala-Ortega for Vancouver school board

The Columbian
Published: October 7, 2021, 6:03am

The election for Position 2 on the board of Vancouver Public Schools features two well-informed, engaging candidates. The Columbian’s Editorial Board recommends that voters support Sandra Zavala-Ortega.

As always, this is merely a recommendation designed to foster discussion. The Columbian encourages voters to study the candidates and the issues through their websites and public appearances, in addition to their profiles in the Voter’s Pamphlet and coverage in The Columbian.

In Zavala-Ortega, voters will find an incumbent who has a compelling personal story and broad experience with Vancouver schools. She was appointed to the board in April to fill the vacancy created when Camara Banfield resigned after being appointed as a Clark County Superior Court judge, and she is seeking to be elected for the first time.

The child of immigrants, Zavala-Ortega started kindergarten in Vancouver schools knowing no English; she eventually graduated college and writes in the Voters’ Pamphlet, “As our district’s diversity grows, it is essential that these same opportunities are provided to all students.”

She is the mother of a special-needs student and the owner of a small business — traits that help her understand the inner workings of education and fiscal responsibility. She also spent five years as a family resource coordinator in the school district.

“It’s kind of been a full circle for me, being part of the school board,” she told the Editorial Board in July. “Also being the first Latina on the school board, which is a pretty big deal considering our district is 30 percent or more Latino. I feel that I bring a whole new perspective to our district, not only being Latina, but also being the parent of a special-ed student, part of the business community, part of the faith-based community.”

Zavala-Ortega has a long list of endorsements that includes statewide organizations and local elected officials. Three of the four other members of the school board also have endorsed her, reflecting her thus-far-brief performance on the board.

Michelle Belkot, the other candidate on the ballot, points to her experience in procurement and engineering contracts while in the military as preparing her to serve on the board.

Belkot questions the transparency of the current board, saying “I know a lot of parents feel they have been ignored,” and she believes schools should have opened for in-person learning sooner than they did in the wake of the COVID pandemic. She opposes the teaching of critical race theory while acknowledging that it is not part of the curriculum, believes that comprehensive sex education is “offensive to many parents” and opposes mask mandates.

Responding to a questionnaire from SWWEducation.org, Belkot writes, “Our families need to trust the school district to teach their children without political agenda, and they also should feel confident that the values they teach in their home are not being undermined at school.”

Regarding the teaching of critical race theory, Zavala-Ortega told the Editorial Board, “That’s something that’s not really happening in our K-12; that’s something that’s happening in universities. We’re teaching the base; that’s the leaves and the branches.”

Zavala-Ortega has a strong understanding of how educational roots can grow into a well-rounded adult. The Columbian’s Editorial Board recommends that she be elected to Position 2 on the Vancouver school board.