Alleging that students are being “indoctrinated” by teachers and criticizing restrictions in schools related to COVID-19, 80 people signed a letter critical of the Oak Harbor School Board and Superintendent Lance Gibbon.
The letter also criticizes the high school’s suggested reading list related to racial justice, saying such books “advance an ideology that advocates the dismantling of the nuclear family, gender irrelevancy, racial shaming and so on.”
Jessica and Brandon Thompson read the letter to board members during the Feb. 8 school board meeting. Those who signed included Dan Evans and Tim Hazelo, two Republican candidates who lost in the November election. Evans ran for county commissioner and Hazelo for Congress.
“Public education throughout our country, and especially in our local communities, is on an irrevocable and harmful course,” the letter says.
It states that students are turning into “mindless non-thinkers” and that “voices are being silenced because they do not align with the current narrative” from political parties and “self-appointed authorities.”
It’s unclear what books about racial justice were being criticized, despite multiple attempts to contact people who signed the letter.
“Although the majority of faculty and staff in the Oak Harbor School District pride themselves on their commitment to protecting our children’s well-being and providing a quality education, and truly want what’s best for all our students, policies adopted by leadership appear to support an agenda-based curriculum we do not want for our children,” the letter says.
The letter then cites the school district’s COVID-19 safety protocols and questions the justification of public health restrictions.
Those who signed the letter said they would not be supporting the school district’s $48.4 million levy, which passed with 55 percent of voters in favor.
School board members typically do not respond to public comments during their meetings.
In an email to the Whidbey News-Times, Superintendent Lance Gibbon and Oak Harbor School Board President John Diamond said that the school district has procedures for parents or community members to have their complaints handled, be it about staff or curriculum.
They also reiterated that the COVID-19 safety protocols and reopening plan were compliant with Washington state’s Department of Health guidelines. The plan was also approved by Island County Public Health.
Under this plan, all students in grades Pre-K through 12th grade have the option of attending hybrid in-person classes or fully online class.
During an interview, school board member Bob Hallahan said he does not believe the schools are brainwashing students as the letter alleged.
Hallahan stressed that he was speaking only for himself and not the school board.
“My opinion is we’re teaching people how to think,” Hallahan said. “I don’t agree that we’re teaching people what to think.”
He added that teaching students ways of understanding logic and how to express themselves can be helpful.
Regarding the letter’s criticism of COVID-19 restrictions, Hallahan said he believes the school district has “a good balance” between safety requirements and the importance of in-person education.
During an interview, Diamond reiterated that the board does not usually respond to public comments and said he didn’t want to comment on the contents of the letter.
However, he did say the board appreciates public input.
“We do like to hear what the public is thinking and what their concerns are,” he said. “While we may not respond to them in the moment, we do appreciate the input.”
This story originally appeared in the Whidbey News-Times, a sister publication to The Herald.