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Erin Jones’ campaign for boss of state schools takes a hit

By On

Living in a left-leaning state with a top-two primary, liberal voters in Washington sometimes must look for finer shades of distinction between the candidates who make it to the general election.

Such is the case for the choice this November over who should assume the open seat for superintendent of public instruction. The position is responsible for overseeing K-12 education in the state. The office is nonpartisan, but two candidates with progressive credentials advanced from the August primary: Chris Reykdal, a Democratic state representative; and Erin Jones, a former assistant state superintendent. If elected, Jones would be the first black woman to hold statewide office in Washington. That alone will score her points with progressive voters. It would be a positive step for this state to be led by someone with Jones’ perspective.

Jones received the most votes in the primary, but Reykdal fared better addressing an important topic: How should we teach gender and sexual identities in the schools? The Stranger this week described how Reykdal did a better job answering questions about whether being gay is a choice, or whether gender issues should be taught in elementary schools. On these same questions, Jones made some serious blunders, which she owned up to in an open letter to The Stranger she posted to Facebook on Tuesday, Aug. 30.The Stranger takes the issue seriously enough that it is rescinding its early endorsement of Jones and giving the nod to Reykdal in the general election.

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I am the parent of a transgender child who told us just this year that he was a boy. Our son has only been in fifth grade in the Bellingham School District for one week, and he has already encountered trouble—old friends who threatened to out him as a girl, and a music teacher who seemed intent on calling him by his old, female name, even after she was corrected. (To give just two examples.) I knew sending my transgender boy to a new school would be complicated (he was in Whatcom Hills Waldorf School the past three years), but I had no idea just how many pitfalls he would encounter. And I’m sure there will be more. Bellingham school officials have made it clear they are still figuring out how to ensure transgender students feel like they belong.

For my son’s sake, I want the next superintendent of public instruction to be someone who doesn’t need a lot of time to figure these things out. Is Jones, who has marched in gay pride parades and has the endorsement of Seattle’s openly gay mayor, nevertheless conflicted or confused over this issue because of her past leadership role in Young Life—a Christian organization for middle- and high schoolers that prohibits adult volunteers from having sex outside of heterosexual marriage?

I will be watching this race as closely as any other in this year’s elections. As The Stranger put it, “In light of the continuing right-wing campaign against LGBTQ youth, (Monisha) Harrell of (Equal Rights Washington) said that this year’s race for state superintendent of public instruction is, in some ways, ‘a more important position than any single senate or house seat on the table.’”

About Ralph Schwartz

Writer • Member since May 23, 2014

After 13 years in mainstream journalism, Ralph Schwartz left The Bellingham Herald in November 2015 to get more involved in the community. He's now a freelance editor and writer, and works in [...]

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