MARYSVILLE — Citing legal concerns about a proposal that would have required parents to sign off on students joining after-school clubs, the Marysville School Board tabled a vote on the policy Monday.
“The reality here is that we are in a legal bind,” board President Paul Galovin said. “If we go forward with this policy, we will spend at least $100,000 in legal fees, and if we lose any of those (legal battles), we will spend hundreds and hundreds of thousands of dollars going through that process. … In the coming weeks, we are going to have to decide how to go forward. I think we need to see this on the agenda again.”
The board agreed to schedule a June 21 workshop on the matter. Board members Connor Krebbs and Keira Atchley both voiced support for a parental consent rule, in some form.
“We have tabled the discussion from last week to now work with the district and have a chance to come up with something,” Atchley said. “For me, I stand with parental consent.”
After the meeting, Krebbs said he would be open to revising the policy, or considering a resolution that the district values parental involvement and parental rights. The workshop will allow the board and staff to have a “more open dialogue.”
“I want to reaffirm parents of Marysville that … we want them to have overall control, custody and care of their children,” he said. “I truly believe everyone came with concerns about this policy because they care about kids.”
Krebbs said that the school district attorney initially told board members that “parental consent is always a good idea” but, after further review of the proposed policy, advised the board about the potential litigation costs. With budget cuts looming in the wake of two failed levies, the board weighed the risks, Krebbs said.
Ahead of the Monday meeting, the sidewalk outside the board room was decorated with rainbow flags. Dozens of students, staff and supporters rallied on behalf of the district’s LGBTQ youth, who critics argued were the target of the board’s proposal. Those critics said the policy could force students to come out as gay.
Lake Stevens City Council member Mary Dickinson, state Rep. Emily Wicks and Snohomish County Council member Megan Dunn were among the crowd.
“When we’re dealing with budgetary issues and equity issues and student achievement, and really having these tough decisions, it seems like a slap in the face to even start talking about human rights issues,” Wicks said. “… It goes against everything that I think America and our democracy stand on. … It says we don’t care about you. It says we want to make things harder for you. It says we’re not concerned about the real issues here.”
In February, a first-grade teacher at Sunnyside Elementary School, Veronica Underwood, shared a transgender student’s story with the School Board to explain the need for LGBTQ clubs in Marysville schools: CJ came out as trans in sixth grade and didn’t have the emotional support he needed along the way. CJ died by suicide, Underwood said.
Meanwhile, some parents and board members expressed concerns that elementary-age children are too young to discuss sexuality.
School Board members proposed requiring parental consent for all extracurricular and co-curricular student groups. In practice, that could mean students would need a parent to sign a permission slip to attend clubs before or after school.
School Board member Wade Rinehardt said earlier this month the policy is not an attack on any one club. Rather, the discussions around the safe space club “prompted” board members to consider where policies “were lacking.”
Officials from the state Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction, leaders from the Washington chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, legal experts and state lawmakers have argued the policy proposal could infringe on students’ rights. Some asked the district to drop the policy.
As community members poured into the board room Monday, the conversation continued.
“A vote for parental permission for co-curricular, non-curricular programs is a vote against the queer community, including some of the amazing Marysville teachers like myself,” Marysville special education teacher Briauna Hansen said. “None of you have openly come out as queer, which means none of you have firsthand experience being targeted by this discrimination and should not be making policies for queer people.”
Marysville resident Phoenix Two Spirit, of the Cree First Nations, said students need a safe space to be free and to decide what identity they connect with.
“Two-spirit” refers to people who identify as having both a masculine and a feminine spirit. It’s used by some Indigenous people to describe their sexual, gender and spiritual identity.
Others argued parents need to know about their kids’ activities at school.
“It is wrong for schools to cut parents out of knowing what their child is doing,” said Whitney Burton, a mother of two elementary students in the district.
At least two parents who spoke in support of the policy suggested a compromise of sending a “master permission slip” to parents at the start of the year, so they could indicate which clubs their children were allowed to participate in.
Some said that’s not the role of the school district.
“If you’re unhappy with how we’re running our groups, if you want to know where your kids are, our phones are always ringing, our email … our doors are open,” said Alisabeth Beecher, a Marysville Pilchuck High School counselor. “Please participate in your children’s lives.”
Melissa Panico, a safe-space club adviser and first-grade teacher, helped organize Monday’s rally so “everyone sees that our youth are seen and heard.”
Incoming Marysville Getchell High School ASB President James De Leon said those rallying outside the board meeting Monday were standing up on behalf of those who may not be able to speak for themselves.
Several clergy members attended the rally, many wearing rainbow-colored clothing. Marysville United Methodist Church senior pastor Meredith Gudger-Raines said she showed up to demonstrate that “Christianity is inherently hospitable” to everyone.
“I’ve heard so many stories from people who have had to endure life without a safe space. … And they come in tears just needing a place to belong,” she said. “School is a safe space for some of these kids, and their school groups are a safe place for them.”
Caryn Young, one of Gudger-Raines’ congregation members, said churches should stand up for people, including children. During the rally, she handed out “Jesus loves you” stickers with the words “just as you are” added in hand-written permanent marker.
“Kids need to know there are grown ups that support them,” Gudger-Raines said.
Panico said a silver lining of the board’s proposal has been the conversation surrounding what it means to be gay.
“We are having conversations now that we have not been having,” Panico said. “I think one of the big things that people are very concerned about is, ‘Why are you having a (gay-straight alliance club) in an elementary school?’ And the truth is, students just don’t automatically turn 18 and then (say), ‘I’m gay.’”
Mallory Gruben is a Report for America corps member who writes about education for The Daily Herald.