State candidates discuss equity in education during pandemic

An issue that garnered differing opinions concerned the inherent inequality in online-only education

Six candidates seeking to represent Whidbey Island and the rest of the 10th Legislative District fielded questions mostly related to the pandemic during an online forum last week.

Last Tuesday’s forum was hosted by the Whidbey Island League of Women Voters and Sno-Isle Libraries.

Participants included Republican Sen. Ron Muzzall, who is seeking election to the seat he was appointed to, and Democrat Helen Price Johnson, an Island County commissioner.

Republican Greg Gilday and Democrat Angie Homola, candidates for representative position 1, also took part in the forum, as did Rep. Dave Paul, a Democrat, and Republican Bill Bruch. Paul and Bruch are running for position 2.

The candidates answered a range of questions about state government, many of which drew agreement among the candidates. An issue that solicited some distinct opinions concerned the inherent inequality in online-only education.

Bruch broke the widest from the pack in advocating for the immediate return of students to school buildings and in-person learning. He said opening schools should be a priority and referred to people younger than 20 as a “non-issue” when it comes to the virus.

“Studies are telling us that children really do not have much of a chance of getting the COVID,” he said, although he didn’t state which studies he was citing.

Bruch said he would like to see big screen TVs or “younger TAs” in the classrooms as stand-ins for teachers who may not want to go to school buildings and risk contracting the virus.

Price Johnson said the state should be making sure each district has the resources to meet the community’s needs.

“We need to make sure that we’re empowering our local districts with the resources they need to keep their students safe, keep the teachers safe and keep families safe,” she said.

Homola said she would like to see resources designated to protect and monitor the health of students while they learn at home.

“It’s an unusual challenge and we’re striving to find solutions,” she said.

Several of the candidates agreed that expanding broadband was essential to education. Gilday suggested the state could partner with utility companies or public utility districts.

“In the end, education is the great equalizer,” Gilday said.

Paul said having access to broadband is an economic issue and one he has been working on for the past two years as a state representative.

Paul said he supports prioritizing it in the education budget and using federal dollars coming in from the CARES Act to help students obtain access to it.

He and Muzzall agreed broadband is expensive.

Muzzall suggested it may need to be subsidized. He said pushing for access would bring equity to the school districts.