News

School group wants privacy

By MIKE HALLIDAY

The Mirror

A new local schools group has removed some people from its membership over claims of privacy violation and says it's now a private group.

Citizens for Student Learning had its inaugural meeting in September after fliers were distributed, inviting people to attend. But some people who attended the meeting and then tried to join were taken off the membership roster. Some apparently were excluded because their views don't mesh with the group's.

Shari Cotes said she tried to join using her birth name and was turned away by the group's leader, Jonathan Gardner. Cotes is a regular at Federal Way School Board meetings and is a vocal critic of board members Charles Hoff and Evelyn Castellar. Citizens for Student Learning's first meeting was held at Castellar's business, Intellipass/Insurepass.

Gardner said Cotes and others were booted after it was discovered they forwarded private e-mail messages from other members of the group to people outside the organization.

He is trying to encourage some people who are interested in education, but not normally involved, to feel comfortable asking questions and expressing their ideas without having them trotted around town, Gardner said.

He said having members who disagreed on some of the issues was not the reason for taking these people off the membership list. But, he said, it probably isn't worth it to join if that's the case. What would be accomplished, he asked.

Shannon Rasmussen, president the Federal Way Education Association (FWEA), the local teachers' union, was turned away at first and was offered membership in exchange for signing a pledge from Gardner.

"I am sorry to be so distrustful, but someone has been forwarding private e-mails to this group to all of Federal Way," Gardner wrote to Rasmussen. "While this is good for publicity, it does nothing to encourage a free and honest discussion. I need you to either prepare a written and signed statement saying you support decency, charter schools and choice shcools, and intend to reform the academic system, or refer me to someone who I trust that trusts you."

FWEA is part of Washington Education Association, the Federal Way-based, statewide teachers' union. It opposed charter school legislation that was rejected by voters earlier this month.

Rasmussen refused to sign. Instead, she sent a letter stating it might be good for the new group to not have everyone in agreement.

Gardner, according to Rasmussen, said after the bylaws were written that it might open membership to others.

Another citizens' group involved in public education, Citizens for Federal Way Public Schools, only asks members to contribute either work or financially in support of Federal Way Public Schools ballot measures, said Audrey Germanis, the organization's president. Otherwise, anyone can join the non-profit organization, she said.

Gardner said his group has not set a date for its next meeting.

Staff writer Mike Halliday: 925-5565, mhalliday@fedwaymirror.com

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