Incumbent Jennifer Jones, running for FWPS school board position 2, delivers an answer during the Mirror’s candidate forum on Wednesday, Oct. 9. Photo courtesy of Bruce Honda

Incumbent Jennifer Jones, running for FWPS school board position 2, delivers an answer during the Mirror’s candidate forum on Wednesday, Oct. 9. Photo courtesy of Bruce Honda

Federal Way school board candidates discuss school safety, equity at forum

Incumbent Luckisha Phillips, Tenya Magruder to compete for Position 3; incumbent Dr. Jennifer Jones seeks Position 2 against no-show challenger Elizabeth Carlson.

Federal Way Public Schools board candidates voiced their thoughts on school safety, district challenges and other topics at the Federal Way Mirror political forum on Wednesday, Oct. 9.

School board incumbent Luckisha Phillips is facing challenger Tenya Magruder for Position 3 and incumbent Jennifer Jones is facing Elizabeth Carlson for Position 2; Carlson did not attend the Mirror’s forum.

Given the recent string of shootings in Federal Way, two of which were youth-related, school board candidates were asked if they believe the school district should teach students about the impacts of gun violence.

Phillips, a mother of four kids in the FWPS district, said it is devastating to hear the news and she worries about all of the kids in the district because “losing another student impacts all of our kids.” She advocated for continuing to teach students safe actions from classroom behavior to changing the culture of Federal Way’s high schools.

Jones agreed this is a very serious issue and is interested in learning more. A 22-year professor at Highline College, Jones said the institution recently had a lockdown due to the possibility of an active shooter on campus.

“We all experienced the fear of what it would be like to have that happen …” She wants to ensure students are safe and schools are secure while exploring solutions.

Magruder believes the safest thing to be done at present is to have police officers or armed security officers at the schools. She has noticed in areas where there are guns, people do not go there. As a former TSA agent, Magruder said having armed marshals on flights is what discontinued aircrafts from being hijacked. Although it is not her first choice, she believes having armed officers on school campuses would offer a sense of security to students and families that is not currently available.

Following with a question regarding if children at every grade level should be trained for active shooter drills, Jones said she bases policy decisions on research and the research does not support children in primary grades being trained in active shooter scenarios.

“That is something that tends to traumatize the young people more than it does educate them.”

For older children, while active shooter drills may be useful, Jones said it is not something people should be expecting to happen at their school. By focusing on the potential of the event, it makes students more worried and anxious than necessary, she said.

Magruder reiterated her point of bringing armed security officers onto campus to eliminate the need for active shooter drills. Agreeing with Jones, Magruder said it terrifies children to point out the possibilities of gun violence.

Phillips said it is important to have a current FWPS parent on the school board to share the work the district is doing through parent and family nights, training programs. Phillips appreciates the conversations had and actions taken to prepare students so far.

“I think that it takes this whole community as part of being the solution,” she said of the need for collaborative partnerships.

Candidates also responded to a question regarding the most immediate challenge they believe the district faces.

Magruder zeroed in on academics, and the lack of performance in English and math courses, stating she would like the district to put an academic program in place that helps students become adult- and college-ready. Rather than “reinvent the wheel,” she suggested the district turn to surrounding districts to look for successful academic offerings.

“… As I see it, children are not getting the best opportunities that they could have available to them because they’re not being challenged academically.”

Phillips pointed out her concerns for the safety and wellbeing of the district’s 1,300 students who identify as students with special needs. She also said she wants to increase access to mental health resources and explore those resources in other languages to provide more accessible support for students who speak any of the approximately 120 languages of the district.

Jones said one of her main concerns is the amount of support provided to the district’s large immigrant and refugee populations through adequate resources communicated in more languages for families, and to maintain that the district is “treating everyone with dignity and respect…”

With roughly 6,000 students in the district who speak another language, many fluent in three or four, Jones wants to ensure the district is taking all of the different languages into account beyond the classroom.

When asked what they will do to ensure racial equity and diversity of all marginalized groups, specifically the LGBTQ+ students and staff, Jones highlighted her work at Highline teaching social issues and global studies for more than two decades. Jones noted she is glad to see the district recognize inclusion as one of their most important issues through training and equity programs offered currently, and said she will continue to support inclusive education for all students.

Magruder said it pains her to realize treating people in an inequitable fashion still seems to be a problem in today’s world.

“… Maybe the biggest problem is that everybody talks about how it is that we’re different; we should be talking about how we’re similar to each other.”

Magruder shared that her oldest son, who is gay, was vicitimzed in the schools he attended in the FWPS district. Noting her observation of the district’s “downward descent,” Magruder said the biggest helping factor would be to teach kids to be polite from a young age.

Phillips said this is a multifaceted approach, and highlighted the district’s current work collecting data and research to support.

“I’ve seen a lot of division happen in our country and that’s what I commit to doing, is promoting inclusion, promoting equity, making sure that we have that conversation while we’re making decisions as school board,” Phillips said.

One of the final questions of the evening asked candidates to share a time where they have been the “other” and what perspective they will bring to their service on the school board.

Magruder said she is the “other” in a lot of instances at her workplace due to frequent interactions with many people who do not speak English as their first language. She said she wishes work could be done so people are more proficient in English because she does not see where it does any favors for individuals to be unable to understand what is going on.

“It is too easy to be taken advantage of when you are not proficient in the English language,” she said.

After serving in the Peace Corps in the Dominican Republic and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Jones learned what it was like to be in an entirely different culture and learn a different language — or multiple new languages.

“I have experienced what some of our immigrant and refugee families go through,” she said. “I have great empathy to that situation and I bring an understanding of what it is like …”

Phillips said there have been many times where she has been the only African-American, the only woman, or the only special needs mom in a room. These instances of feeling like the “other,” she said, bring a humility and empathy to service on the school board.

“I want to empower our students to learn from their experiences …”

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