Sobering This and That

On Enrollment Issues in Seattle Schools

A story from the South Seattle Emerald that states:

“In Seattle, over one-third of our households are considered to be low-income,” said Kelli Larsen, policy and planning director for the Office of Housing, citing data from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

A low-income household in Seattle is one that makes less than 80% of AMI. Seattle’s AMI is approximately $116,068. According to Seattle Housing Authority, a household of one making $77,700 or less is considered low-income. The national median income is $74,750 as of April 2024. 

“Renters make up over 50% of the residents in Seattle. We understand how important it is to invest in rental affordable homes, and the rental housing program is the majority of our funds for the Seattle Housing Levy, payroll expense tax, and MHA [Mandatory Housing Affordability Program]. We recently announced the 2023 funding awards, totaling 53 million to build 443 homes,” said Larsen. “Seattle needs 112,000 new homes by 2044, with the majority of need in the affordable housing categories. About 70,000 homes are needed at or below 80% of AMI. The greatest need for affordable housing exists at the 0–30 level for those with the lowest incomes. We need over 43,000 homes for extremely low-income households.”

I note that low-income is not the same as living in poverty. But clearly, there are struggling families and that rental rate - over 50% of residents - certainly may mean that those families are shunning Seattle for less expensive places. 

I also saw an article in this morning's Seattle Times that states that in Seattle 1 out of 4 people over 65 are still working. That's higher than the national average of 1 in 5. 


On Closing Schools

Also from the South Seattle Emerald, a story on closing schools that portends the one fight I think there may be for closures. A teacher at Meany Middle School weighs in:

Alison Underdahl, a math teacher at Meany Middle School, disagrees. She notes that larger class sizes make it more difficult for students to build relationships with their teachers, and families will likely struggle to engage in school activities if the schools are further away from their homes.

“What I hear the district saying is do more with less,” Underdahl wrote in an email. “The only way they will close the budget deficit through closures is with deep cuts in staffing. This means fewer staff at fewer buildings with more kids.”

“I don’t think the budget is as dire as they are making it out to be,” Underdahl wrote. “It feels like [SPS is] playing politics with the education of our students and with our livelihoods. It feels like we are just numbers to them. It’s demoralizing. Our students deserve better.”

What did I see in the article that could start a fight? Equity issues. 

At one of the Work Sessions on the budget and closures, there was a bit of an early warning shot from Director Brandon Hersey about protecting schools with large numbers of "students furthest from educational justice." I'm not remembering if it was Kurt Buttleman or Fred Podesta who pushed back, saying the closures should happen throughout the district as there were underenrolled schools everywhere. Hersey kind of harrumphed, saying they would need to talk about it. 

For an issue like closures that is so sensitive and impactful to students and teachers and parents throughout the district, I think saying one region will have zero or fewer closures will lead to hard feelings.

School closures will affect all types of students — but educators and parents alike have been especially worried for marginalized, vulnerable students.  

This teacher worries about Special Education students:

Dustin Cole, a special education teacher at Graham Hill Elementary School, on South Graham Street and 51st Place South, worries about the effects of school closures on vulnerable students, such as those with disabilities. He noted that it took him two years to get grab bars installed in his students’ bathrooms. 

“There are few district wide guidelines for the unique expectations of how we support students with significant disabilities,” Cole wrote in an email. “Each building and/or program is expected to make decisions around toileting, inclusion, behavior support, prevention of injuries, curriculum and most other matters. If the district closed my school, what [would] the expectations [be] at a new building? Will teachers have to re-establish guidelines? Will teachers have to bargain or seek permission to provide the same level of care, support, physical accommodations, access, and inclusion with a new administrator?”

Special Education is its own universe and, for closures, will need to be handled well. Mr. Cole, the teacher quoted above, is right - the district will have to in advance - have planning to explain not only where Special Education students will go BUT how their needs will be met at new schools. Patting parents on the head and saying, "don't worry" will not cut it. 


On the Garfield High School Shooting

The My Northwest website had some new information about the hunt for the Garfield High School killer. 

Police said there were witnesses and there was even a video taken on a cell phone. But, the Seattle Police Department (SPD) told KIRO Newsradio officers can’t make arrests based on what’s been posted on social media. They need warrants to obtain the digital data and SPD said there’s a lot of it.

When police do get the data, they will then analyze it firsthand. SPD said detectives are working with local and federal agencies, including the FBI, to get that done.

SPD has said that they can't make arrests just based on what someone says on social media. Hence verifying the social media posts. 

Retired King County Sheriff John Uruhart had an interesting observation.

"...this was done at noon at school and in front of a bunch of other people, there’s no doubt in my mind at least that the Seattle Police Department knows who their suspect is,” Urquhart said.

He added that police are reluctant to name juvenile suspects.

Police are encouraging anyone with information to call the Seattle Police Department's violent crime tip line immediately at 206-233-5000 or Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-TIPS (8477).

As of June 11, a verified gofundme for Amarr's family had raised more than $36,000.

Last week's Seattle Times had a Danny Westneat column on when Garfield High School DID have a police officer there.

From 2008 to 2019, Radford was Garfield’s cop. “Officer Bennie,” the kids called him. He stood sentry at the front door, wandered the grounds during lunch periods and, every so often, was called on to enforce the peace.

For example, Radford once chased down and arrested a 25-year-old leader of the Deuce 8 street gang, in a school hallway. Prosecutors alleged the gang leader was using the high school as a recruiting ground for fresh members.

“I was mostly on guard for folks coming around Garfield who didn’t belong,” Radford said Tuesday. “I wasn’t arresting the students.”

But then came the George Floyd murder at the hands of Minneapolis police:

But the Seattle School Board canceled the job in 2020 during the backlash against policing after George Floyd’s murder. The board indefinitely shelved school police arrangements at Garfield and four other Seattle schools.

In a resolution, the board said it was “abandoning notions of policing and pathology,” and removing the officers as a show of how the school district “supports defunding police.”

Some parents were not pleased:

“If the politically correct thing to do is cancel them, then we need a plan before students go back to campus, to keep them safe,” said Liz Cortez, at the time the mother of a Garfield junior, in prophetic testimony to the board in June 2020.

Added Kayla Epting, another Garfield parent: “I feel the decision to remove the school resource officers is being made in a knee-jerk fashion.”

Westneat continues:

Officer Bennie said there’s no way to know whether he or any other cop might have stopped last Thursday’s killing of 17-year-old student Amarr Murphy-Paine. Or the previous shooting in March, where bullets injured a 17-year-old girl at the school’s bus stop.

But there’s also no question the school needs help. Multiple parents told me their kids have reported there have been guns inside the school this year. Whether that’s rumor or hard truth almost doesn’t matter, because just the perception could lead to more guns in and around the school.

He's right there - perception is a big part of a school's reputation. 

Radford continues:

“It was a great program, and they never should have gotten rid of it,” he said. “All defund the police did is hurt that city.”

The problem with having officers in schools comes when they’re used to discipline students. It raises legitimate concerns about overpolicing.

I will absolutely agree that some of the nomenclature that the Seattle School Board has hung onto like pitbulls has NOT served students well. It was all very performative and now we see it may have done real damage. 

So what can be done?

Maybe school resource officers don’t need to be armed at all times, or be in uniform. As Mayor Bruce Harrell told the grieving Garfield crowd Tuesday, “we can have a force that isn’t a militarized force.”  

But what Garfield does need is a presence. That’s what Officer Bennie was. Could Counselor Bennie or Social Worker Bennie be as much of a deterrent? 

What I can add is this. One, when I was co-president at Roosevelt High, they had a SPD officer who explained to me that he was there to build relationships. He said his presence was more of a lookout - similar to what Radford is saying - being eyes and ears. He said one time he was chatting up a student and the student told him that there was to be a big fight at nearby Cowen Park. Because he was SPD, he could intervene (and SRO would have to call SPD because SROs cannot act outside of the school grounds). 

If not a presence, maybe metal detectors. I know - they look awful. We don't know if the shooter had himself been in the building that day but if he had, he might have triggered a metal detector. And yes, I know kids have all kinds of ways to sneak stuff into school but there needs to be many tools to curb school violence. 

More broadly, people are calling for tougher gun control and enforcement, with shootings in Seattle up 16% this year so far. But how do you regulate guns, seize them, control them, even ban some types of them, without police doing that enforcement? It seems like a liberal disconnect.

And when you have a SCOTUS that thinks that bump stocks don't make a weapon automatic, you sure are up against some odds.

However, I'd be willing to bet that most school shooters (who are attending the school) get their guns at home.  My call would be for a law on negligence by parents. Two parents who are now going to jail for their lack of action when their son presented as having issues and then he got him a gun and he then shot up his school are probably quite shocked to be held accountable for their actions or lack thereof. 

I find it quite interesting that there is not more attention to WHERE kids get their guns for school shootings and what is happening in their homes that would make it easy for kids to have access to weapons.

More parents should be brought up on charges. I'm pretty sure that would send a big message out to other parents who are gun owners. 


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