TACOMA, Wash. — Community members at the Tacoma Public Schools board meeting Thursday night voiced their concerns about a controversial opinion piece written by a teacher.
The op-ed titled “Diversity education is divisive education” was written by Wilson High School AP History teacher Mike Jankanish. In the article, he wrote that he is opposed to HB 1314, a legislative proposal to incorporate ethnic studies in public education in Washington.
Some parents and teachers in the community have criticized his views since the article was published last weekend. Others came to the meeting to voice their opinions.
“What he did was put into words what a lot of us believe a lot of educators think about children of color,” said Ray Lee. “We don’t have any proof, but we do have the disparities that exist in education.”
Bryce Asberg, a former student who now attends college in Michigan, came to defend Jankanish and his right to voice his opinion.
“Despite all this we are imperfect, and the only way we can possibly hope to get close to a just society is through dialogue. We must recognize every member of our community has something valuable to contribute to this conversation,” he said.
Asberg also criticized School Board President Karen Vialle who previously wrote in a statement: “I was appalled at the tone of the letter. We have worked so hard on diversity. It was disconcerting to me and the board. There's no place in our society for that kind of thinking."
Members of Vibrant Schools Tacoma Coalition called for the board to go further, referencing district policies on equity.
“We expect and trust you to do the right thing,” Kimi Ginn told the board.
She said after the meeting that the group does not plan to drop the issue and hopes Jankanish will be formally disciplined, at a minimum.
“We had created a hostile learning environment for those diverse groups of children,” Lee said. “How can they be expected to sit in his classroom and be taught by him knowing he harbors these feelings.”
Several board members addressed the controversy at the end of the meeting. The board previously released a statement condemning Jankanish’s views, signed by all except Debbie Winskill.
Winskill said Thursday she did not support the letter because she believes Jankanish to be a good teacher.
School Board member Scott Heinze said he'd not heard any arguments this week that makes him not support diversity education in schools.
“I will continue to be arm and arm with my colleagues to fight for every kid and every family in this district to feel safe, and valued, and respected when they walk in the classroom,” said Heinze. “I will honor people’s first amendment right to have their own public opinion, but when you choose to work in the Tacoma Public Schools district, you will abide by the expectation of Tacoma Public Schools district.”
“Thank goodness that I think the Michael Jankanishes are in minority in our school district now, and we’re going to work hard to make sure all of our teachers do what we want them to do, and that is teach diversity and honor diversity and honor the cultures of all our children,” said Vialle. “And as long as I sit up here, I have no problem reiterating that and no problem saying that publicly and will continue to do so.”
KING 5 reached out to Jankanish Thursday. He declined another on-camera interview but said he believes this to be a “pretty cut and dry” first amendment issue.
“I believe what I wrote, and I stand by what I wrote,” Jankanish said.