Edmonds School District leaders joined the Lynnwood City Council Monday night to discuss how the district is handling remote learning during the pandemic and the future for Lynnwood schools.
The council met at its Oct. 5 work session with Superintendent Gustavo Balderas and Edmonds School Board President Deborah Kilgore, who both provided an update on how the district is teaching students while schools are closed due to COVID-19. During his opening remarks, Balderas — who began his job as superintendent three months ago — said the district is preparing to return students to in-person learning once authorized by public health officials.
“We all want our kids back in school and we will do so when it is safe to do so,” he said.
The council was also briefed on the district’s current timeline for returning students to the classroom. Recently, the board presented a draft four-stage plan that prioritizes bringing back students in special-needs programs — like deaf and hard-of-hearing, mentally fragile and developmental kindergarten programs — and younger students.
During the meeting, Balderas said the district aims to have those students return to in-person instruction later this month. If that goes well, he said the district would then start to phase in some kindergarten through second-grade students.
“We’d make sure we’d start small to get it right,” he said.
Balderas also spoke to plans directly related to Lynnwood. He said the district is planning to put a $30 million capital bond levy to voters in April 2021. If approved, Balderas said the levy would be funded over six years and cover development for Phase 2 of Spruce Elementary School and another elementary school in Lynnwood.
“We need to complete Spruce (Elementary) School and also start looking at other elementary schools,” he said. “Our kids deserve a better education than what they’re getting now in terms of some of our older buildings.”
Earlier this year, the district asked voters to approve a $600 million construction bond and $96 million technology levy. Voters approved the technology levy, but the construction bond failed to receive the supermajority vote required for passage. Balderas said the approval of the tech levy helped to purchase 7,000 extra Chromebooks distributed to students for remote learning. In addition to Chromebooks, the district worked to make sure students had internet access for their online lessons. Last spring, Board President Kilgore said she prioritized ensuring that students could connect to the internet because it has become an essential tool for learning.
“(Internet) is like a utility, it’s no different than water or electricity. Having the internet is needed for our kids to be successful,” she said.
The district also plans to provide more outreach to non-English speaking families. According to Balderas, more than half of the district’s students are students of color and more than 20% of the students are Latino.
Additionally, Kilgore said Lynnwood is home to the district’s most diverse schools, both racially and economically. As a Lynnwood resident, Kilgore said the schools’ diversity is a community asset and the district will be working to provide more outreach to Spanish-speaking families.
“We are making a real effort to reach Lynnwood kids and to bring their voices up for the first time, perhaps ever,” she said.
Following the presentation, Council President Christine Frizzell asked if district staff have discussed ways to accommodate more community volunteer work. According to Frizzell, some parents like to continue to volunteer even after their students have graduated and wondered how the district staff would facilitate that. In response, Balderas said the goal is to create a database on each school’s website that lists volunteer opportunities.
“That way, parents and community members can actually come in and look at what’s available,” he said.
The superintendent and board president also addressed the district’s recent decision to cut ties with local law enforcement agencies and remove school resource officers (SROs) from high school campuses. In response to concerns about students of color being disproportionately policed compared to their white peers, the board unanimously voted earlier this year to terminate contracts with the Edmonds, Lynnwood and Mountlake Terrace police departments as well as the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office — effectively removing armed SROs from Edmonds-Woodway, Meadowdale, Mountlake Terrace and Lynnwood high schools, respectively.
“In this particular decision we had a number of students (and) we clearly hadn’t considered their position for a long time and they had been coming to us,” Kilgore said. “Whether I feel (students) should be traumatized or not, is not really relevant — it’s that they are feeling traumatized and they can’t learn if they aren’t feeling safe in school. We have to look at the bigger picture.”
Council Vice President Shannon Sessions — who used to work as a spokesperson for the Lynnwood Police Department — has voiced her disapproval about the decision in the past, saying SROs could use their interactions with students to create healthy relationships with law enforcement. During the discussion, Sessions asked what the district’s plans are in the event of an on-campus security situation.
Balderas said the district has been in recent talks with the Edmonds, Lynnwood and Mountlake Terrace police departments to reinstate the school liaison officer program. Under the program, officers from local agencies would be assigned high schools in their jurisdiction – and would monitor and respond to those schools in the event of an emergency, if they are available. At Lynnwood High School — which is located in unincorporated Lynnwood and served by the sheriff’s office — Balderas said the district is considering placing an unarmed, retired police officer on campus.
“We want (liaison officers) to be specially trained to be able to understand how to de-escalate situations when called upon,” he said.
However, Balderas added that SROs are only a small portion of the issue regarding racial inequities in the district and that staff would be assessing other ways to ensure learning is more equitable for all students.
In other business, the council discussed a draft ordinance proposing changes to Lynnwood’s municipal codes regarding city boards and commissions. Several suggested amendments are routine updates and other changes include removing both term limits and the requirement for board members and commissioners to be registered voters in Lynnwood.
“It’s our opinion and our thought that being a registered voter doesn’t show your level of commitment or your level of engagement and it shouldn’t be a requirement or a barrier to serving on a board or commission,” said city spokesperson Julie Moore.
The council discussed the city’s salary commission, which is responsible for reviewing and recommending salaries for the city’s elected officials. Councilmember George Hurst said current language in the draft allows the salary commission to meet whenever commissioners believe it necessary, which he said goes against the municipal code and he would not support it. He also said that the deadlines for having proposed salaries ready to include in planning for the biennium budget were too vague.
Human Resources Director Evan Chin said the leeway allows time for the commission to make changes at the last minute in the event of an emergency, like the coronavirus pandemic, which prevented the commission from meeting.
“I think it’s partly being a little bit gun-shy of what delays can happen and that gives flexibility to at least work with the budget office,” Chin said. “In the event of a delay, they need time to process and make a decision.”
Though Hurst acknowledged the city’s current special circumstances as a result of the pandemic, he said the salary commission guidelines need to be looked at longer term.
“Council can be fluid as far as budgeting, but I think a salary commission needs to be pretty standardized,” he said.
Also during the meeting, the council welcomed its new executive assistant Lisa Harrison. Under the direction of the city council president, the executive assistant provides administrative support to the council by coordinating office functions and serving as a liaison between the city’s elected officials and staff. The executive assistant also helps the council prepare for weekly business meetings and work sessions and sits in on the meetings to aid the council.
The council then adjourned the meeting into an executive session to discuss litigation and real estate. No decisions were made following the executive session.
–By Cody Sexton