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Year in review: Education stirred up some fiery controversies

Gore’s flick sparks hostile climate (Jan. 13)

National media stormed the city in January after the Federal Way School Board voted to temporarily ban the movie “An Inconvenient Truth.”

The movie is a documentary by Al Gore about global warming. According to scientists quoted in the movie, a major catastrophe could hit the world in 10 years, bringing extreme weather, floods, droughts, epidemics and killer heat waves.

The film urges viewers to take action.

The board voted for a moratorium on the movie after parent Frosty Hardison complained about the film being shown in his daughter’s classroom.

After fielding hundreds of e-mails and phone calls and becoming an object of scorn from angry citizens throughout the country, the board reversed the moratorium and allowed the movie to be shown as long as opposing viewpoints were also presented. The controversy remains a source of embarrassment for members of the school board.

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Now serving more gifted kids (March 10)

The Cambridge Checkpoint Preparatory Academy, an elite advanced academic program, became available to middle school students in Federal Way this year. Both Sacajawea and Lakota middle schools began offering the program, designed to prepare students for the high school Cambridge Program, this fall.

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Some schools skip homework (April 4)

After exasperating attempts to get students to complete their homework, some Federal Way teachers have given up.

One district elementary teacher said colleagues assign homework, but remain sensitive to children from non-supportive families and don’t penalize those students for not completing their work. At least one Federal Way middle school doesn’t assign homework at all, a staff member there said.

Later in the year, the Federal Way School Board considered a new homework policy that states homework may be required or optional.

“The amount of time projected to complete all homework should be sensitive to the students’ home responsibilities, personal obligations and the ability for the students to access assistance in the completion of assignments,” the new policy says.

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Math not a problem for class of 2008 (April 14)

Students who didn’t pass the math portion of the Washington Assessment of Student Learning (WASL) test breathed a sigh of relief after lawmakers voted to delay the math WASL requirement until the class of 2012.

Students who did not pass the test were required to take additional math courses. The measure also delayed the science WASL portion of the graduation requirement until 2013.

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School bond clears hurdle (May 17)

The third time was the charm for supporters of a $149 million construction bond to rebuild and renovate schools in Federal Way.

The $149 million bond will rebuild five aging schools: Lakota Middle School and Lakeland, Panther Lake, Sunnycrest and Valhalla elementary schools.

The district’s transportation center, central kitchen and maintenance facilities will be rebuilt and relocated to an area near Celebration Park.

The bond will trigger $20 million in matching funds from the state to provide improvements to 23 Federal Way schools built before 1990, with the exception of Federal Way High School. Renovations will include repairing items such as heating, roofs and plumbing.

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Students react to undercover sting (June 9)

Many students in Federal Way high schools don’t mind the idea of having undercover officers attending classes with them.

In late May, the Federal Way Police Department charged 12 students and two adults with drug and weapons charges after an undercover operation at three Federal Way high schools. The officers, a 29-year-old woman and a 33-year-old man, posed as students while purchasing the drugs and guns.

The undercover operation occurred at Todd Beamer, Decatur and Federal Way high schools.

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Board: Let kids bring gadgets to school (June 30)

Students in Federal Way schools will be allowed to bring their cell phones and iPods to school, the school board voted.

Use of such items was limited in a policy passed after a year of debate and four revisions.

One school board member and a handful of community members supported an outright ban on electronics while other board members disagreed.

They agreed on the final policy in June, which allowed electronics use in designated areas during designated times.

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School district will fire Twin Lakes teacher (Sept. 21)

The Federal Way School District moved to fire Scott Riley, a music teacher at Twin Lakes Elementary School, after he was charged with communicating with a minor for immoral purposes, a misdemeanor sex crime.

Riley was arrested at Twin Lakes early May 9 after an 11-year-old girl alleged that he had inappropriately touched her several weeks earlier during band practice in the school music room.Riley eventually pleaded guilty to assaulting the girl and resigned from his position with the school district. He also turned in his state teaching certificate.

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The language of learning (Oct. 5)

The minority population in Federal Way classrooms is growing. And with that comes the added challenges of teaching immigrant children, many of whom don’t speak English.

There are currently 105 different languages spoken by families in the Federal Way School District, and 30 percent of students come from non-English-speaking families.

Teachers deal with the language barriers by using lots of pictures and nonverbal cues. English Language Learners (ELL) teachers pull students out of class for intensive tutoring and children also help their non-English-speaking peers in class. Despite the language barriers, Federal Way remains competitive with other districts for Washington Assessment of Student Learning (WASL) scores.

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Students test school board hopefuls (Oct. 12)

Students at Federal Way High School brought a new perspective to three school board races during a forum Oct. 10 at the campus.

Social studies, business law, history and journalism students gathered in the school’s little theater and asked the six candidates questions ranging from familiar topics of debate to issues of relevance to high school students. Some of the popular questions regarded closed campuses and personal electronics such as iPods and cell phones.

School board candidates Suzanne Smith, Dave Larson and Amye Bronson-Doherty eventually won the race.

School board members Evelyn Castellar and Charlie Hoff stepped down from their positions on the board. The pair had debated issues throughout their terms, and many of Hoff’s ideas had been a source of controversy on the board.

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Technology careers (Oct. 16)

The Federal Way School District voted to open a new specialized technology academy for sixth- through 12th-grade students beginning next fall.

The Technology Access Foundation (TAF) Academy will be funded by the Gates Foundation, the Paul Allen Foundation and Microsoft. The small, specialized academy will operate in separate buildings on the Totem Middle School Campus. The two schools will share the same grounds and some facilities.

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Safety first for Decatur labs (Oct. 24)

Decatur High School student Nate Chusid accepts a book about recycling called “Cradle to Cradle” during an awards ceremony Oct. 24. Decatur became just second school in the country to receive an award from the Environmental Protection Agency for eliminating dangerous and improperly stored chemicals. Over the course of the cleanup, Decatur inventoried and removed 2,905 pounds of chemicals that were no longer useful.

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Books belong in the past (Nov. 2)

None of the textbooks used in Federal Way schools mention President Bill Clinton and the White House sex scandal, the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, Osama bin Laden, Hurricane Katrina or the 2004 tsunami that killed more than 200,000 people in Southeast Asia.

Some of the books used to teach social studies or history in Federal Way schools are nearly 20 years old. Most were published in 1987.

Many Federal Way teachers incorporate hands-on projects into their lessons and rarely use the outdated books. Instead, students research with new materials from magazines, educational periodicals, newspapers and the Internet. The district plans to purchase new social studies textbooks next year after new state requirements for social studies curriculum are passed down.

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School district wins fair funding lawsuit (Nov. 6)

The Federal Way School District won summary judgment in its fair funding lawsuit against the state of Washington. The decision means more money for the school district.

“This court finds that the disparate funding to school districts violates the constitution of the State of Washington because it is not general and uniform. Further, it finds that the disparate funding violates the constitutional equal protection rights of Federal Way’s teachers, students and taxpayers,” Judge Michael Heavey said in his published court opinion.

The decision means that the Legislature will have to create a new funding system by the end of the current session.

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