Dear Federal Way School Board: Have some guts

By LEN ENGLUND, Federal Way resident

Last January, the Federal Way School Board changed course on a longstanding practice of welcoming and receiving comments at public meetings, limiting each community member at each meeting to one three-minute address.

In doing so, the board has violated the spirit of its own Policy 1441 (www.fwsd.wednet.edu/info/policies/1000/1441.html), which provides for community comment whenever proposals to change or implement new district policies are being considered.

I and many other residents are dismayed at this new limitation. The board explained this change in policy as having been made at the annual board retreat (a meeting that does not have decision agenda items). This is both false and irrelevant. The change was actually made by then-President Dave Larson, who left the board to serve as a Federal Way Municipal Court judge in February 2008.

Even if the decision had been made at a board retreat, it would have been an inappropriate venue for such a sea-change in policy. The public should have been allowed to consider and comment on this change in policy before implementation.

It is puzzling that despite comments protesting this change, the current directors do not find skirting Policy 1441 to be restrictive.

The board seems to have forgotten that it serves at the pleasure of the community and that as elected representatives of the community, it is accountable to the community.

Muzzling our voice is bad for democracy and bad for representative government. It is both elitist and patronizing — and leaves us feeling our board is arrogant, unresponsive and out of touch.

It may be possible that the five individuals serving on our board of directors have all the answers to education problems in this district. But I doubt it. This board acts as though it does not want to hear bad news; it acts as if it does not want to address controversy; and it acts as if the public does not matter.

If the school board directors are really interested in knowing what the public thinks, they will return policy on public comments to its pre-2008 practice or find a way to more actively engage the public in important issues.

This board should dare to hear the bad along with the good. And it should not fear what the public has to say about education policies.

The board of directors has an opportunity to be cutting-edge. It has the ability to be more inclusive and more effectively engage the public in policy debates.

In doing so, the educational outcomes for the 23,000 students in the Federal Way School District can only be improved.

Have guts, directors. Be willing to take it on the chin from time to time. Take the good with the bad. Use it as an opportunity for positive change to make a difference in our community. Our future depends on it.

Len Englund is a Federal Way resident. Send comments to editor@fedwaymirror.com

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