Although I’m an attorney, when I read the decision, I read it through the eyes of a parent. Because my experience on the ground over the past thirteen years has been through the lens of helping parents who, just like me, have a child who struggles in school. This might be because their child has a disability, like my son. Or they may lack the financial resources to get outside tutoring help. Or their child might be a foster child who is behind in school. Or for many other reasons.
And over the years, the one unifying theme of these parents is their need for more choices in our public school system. Many are desperate for a public school or program that meets their child where they are and embraces their learning style, instead of a one-size-fits-all approach that leaves too many children behind, and creates a system of haves and have-nots.
That’s what makes the Court’s decision all the more frustrating. It rests on two words from our Constitution (“Common School”) as defined in a case from 100 years ago.
Based on reasoning from a time of one-room schoolhouses, what this Court is saying to any parent in search of options for their child, even one who is struggling in school is this: no, our state won’t give you more choices. If parents want better schools, they should run for school board, or find a candidate and run their campaign.
Again, according to the state Supreme Court, only after you are elected (keeping in mind that over 80 percent of incumbents nationally are re-elected to school boards), can you finally start to do the things that improve education for kids, like hiring high-quality teachers (and getting rid of ones who aren’t up to the job). Of course in the meantime, your own child is quickly aging out of the K-12 system, while you as a parent are too busy trying to change the world.
That’s no way to run a school system, let alone raise a child.
Let’s change the facts. What if a family had a sick child and took them to Evergreen Health Hospital in Kirkland (part of a public hospital district). But instead of getting better the child got worse. Under this Court’s view, instead of finding a new hospital and new doctors, those parents must instead run for election to the Evergreen Health Board of Commissioners. Then try to hire doctors who can help their child.
But of course, we don’t do that when a child is sick. We look for a hospital and doctors who know how to treat our child and help them get better. Choosing a school should be no different.
Many of the students impacted by the Court’s decision are students of color, students with disabilities or students from less-affluent families – in other words, ones our system historically has not done a very good job educating. Does this Court expect them to hope an elected school board will somehow improve their child’s classroom experience quickly enough to make a difference? How sad that we expect those parents to wait – possibly for many years – for a fix from their school board that might never materialize, for the sake of a protecting a school governance structure set up to protect connected special interests, all with the aim of keeping things just as they are.
Let’s hope our state legislature can correct course on this misguided and ultimately damaging decision, because what’s at stake isn’t just the future of those 1200 students, it’s the fundamental principle that the way we can make schools accountable is to let parents – especially those who can’t afford private school options – deliberately and intentionally choose a school that best meets the needs of their child.