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Teen presses for policeman's name on new school

By MIKE HALLIDAY

The Mirror

Bob Millen thought naming Federal Way's new middle school would be easy.

But a 13-year-old girl has made that job difficult –– and potentially controversial –– for Millen and the other members of the School Board.

Kara Dameron wants Federal Way Public Schools to break with the rules of naming middle schools after people, places or events of Native American literature and name the new facility after the late Patrick Maher.

Maher was a Federal Way Police officer who was shot and killed in 2003 while scuffling with a suspect. He is the only Federal Way officer killed in the line of duty.

"He was a great role model for children and loved children," Dameron said during a presentation to the board Tuesday night. The audience was supportive of Dameron and applauded her after speaking.

Maher's widow, Renee, praised Dameron's efforts and asked the board to name the school after her husband.

"I'm here because he isn't," she said.

Maher responded to a report of people fighting in front of a convenience store. After he separated the two men, one ran away and the officer chased him. After Maher caught the suspect, the man managed to pull Maher's sidearm from its holster and shot the officer once in the abdomen.

Maher's name is on a Police Department training room in City Hall and in the near future will be on a marker in front of the building's entrance.

The school district is building the new middle school on a 47-acre site on South 360th Street. The $17 million facility will become the seventh middle school in the district when it opens next fall.

Like many other districts in the state and nationwide, Federal Way has guidelines for the names it bestows on its schools. Elementary schools are named after local lakes, geographic characteristics, authors of children's literature or people, places or events of children's literature. High schools are named after famous national American leaders.

The School Board has stepped into controversy before on the naming issue. The district received nationwide attention when it named Todd Beamer High School after a passenger on the airliner that crashed in Pennsylvania after being hijacked by terrorists on Sept. 11, 2001. Many people in the community questioned naming the school after Beamer since he had no connection to the community. Board member Earl VanDorien Jr. also wanted Ronald Reagan to be considered, but at the time the former president was alive. The district's policy states people considered for school names can't be living.

Edward Stewart, a citizen at Tuesday's board meeting, urged the board to stick with its policy for naming middle schools. He wasn't intending to dishonor Maher, Stewart said, but he recommended the board give Mt. Tahoma consideration as the name.

Tacoma School District has a high school by that name.

Federal Way City Councilwoman Linda Kochmar urged the board to approve Dameron's suggestion.

"I know you have policies," Kochmar told the board. "Policies are made to be bent."

Police chief Ann Kirkpatrick also spoke in favor of naming the school after Maher.

The board will consider names when it meets on March 8. While the public can vote for a name, it's the board's prerogative to choose one.

The board made few comments about the Maher request or whether they would be swayed by Dameron and others who spoke to change the rules. Board member Charles Hoff said he was sure the name would be a topic of discussion.

"It's hard to know what to do with this," VanDorien said before expressing his support for police officers.

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

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