Claire Wilson, District 30 State Senator. File photo

Claire Wilson, District 30 State Senator. File photo

Thoughts on Totem Middle School, diversity and inclusion | Guest column

By District 30 State Sen. Claire Wilson

  • Tuesday, July 13, 2021 5:21pm
  • Opinion

By State Sen. Claire Wilson, Special to the Mirror

A recent article in the Federal Way Mirror discussed the Federal Way Public Schools superintendent’s decision to rename Totem Middle School. This change is in response to a new law enacted this year that prohibits “inappropriate use of Native American names, symbols, or images as public school mascots, logos, or team names.”

The new law, passed and signed into law this year, is part of a long history of efforts to ensure that our schools respect the cultural heritage of our Native American communities.

In 1993, the Washington State Board of Education adopted a resolution asking all school districts to review building names, mascots, logos, activities, events, portrayal of caricatures, and behaviors to ensure that references and activities were free of bias, derogatory connotations or effects associated with race, creed, color, national origin, gender, sexual orientation or disability. In a 2012 resolution, the board encouraged school districts to review policies related to the use of Native American mascots or other symbols that may have adverse effects on students.

In 2015, the state enacted legislation to require school districts to incorporate curricula about the history, culture and government of nearby tribes when reviewing or adopting a social studies curriculum. In addition, districts must collaborate with local tribes to incorporate curriculum materials and to create programs of classroom and community cultural exchanges.

This year, Gov. Jay Inslee signed House Bill 1356 into law. Because it prohibits the inappropriate use of Native American names, symbols or images as public school mascots, logos or team names, school districts around the state are having similar conversations. Federal Way Public Schools is just one of them working on this issue. More than anything else, at the heart of this matter is respect.

Inclusion in FW schools

A recent letter to the editor in the July 1 edition called on the Federal Way Public Schools superintendent to “show concern for the true Christian culture” by removing materials in our schools prepared or provided by GLSEN.

Families who want schools to teach Christian values may benefit from private religious schools, but laws requiring the separation of church and state prevent public schools from doing so. Moreover, public schools have a duty to create a safe learning environment for all scholars. Creating a sense of belonging by intentionally engaging with scholars and providing opportunities for participation in all aspects of a community is called inclusion. Inclusion efforts geared toward LGTBQ+ scholars do not restrict the rights of other scholars to hold their own religious beliefs.

Washington’s public schools have been tasked with improving diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) in school communities; this year the Legislature passed a law requiring DEI training for school board directors, school district staff and superintendents. But inclusion isn’t just about complying with laws.

It’s also about saving lives. Negative attitudes toward LGBTQ scholars put them at increased risk of being victims of bullying, harassment and physical assault; indeed, 19 percent of LGBTQ youth ages 13–18 reported attempting suicide in the past year.

Regardless of the attitudes toward these youth held by individual scholars and parents, inclusion and a safe learning environment must continue to be a priority for safe, healthy public schools that serve all our youth.

State Sen. Claire Wilson (D) represents the 30th Legislative District, which includes Federal Way.

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