Reaction: Seattle Public Schools needs a change in mindset

After just two-and-a-half years, Seattle Public Schools Superintendent Denise Juneau announced she’s leaving her position in June.

A couple of parent advocates of students with disabilities told Q13 News that Juneau is the eighth superintendent since enrolling their children in the school district.

Cherylynne Crowther’s son is now a senior in Seattle and receives special education services.

“When you start to look under the hood of what’s going on in the Seattle Public School system, you see a lot of broken things,” said Crowther.

This past weekend, the Seattle Special Education Parent Teacher Student Association (PTSA) took a vote of no confidence in the district. President Janis White said it was triggered after a district investigation at View Ridge Elementary. KUOW reported school staff members were isolating a young boy who is black and has special needs to control behavioral issues.

“We cannot allow this kind of abuse to continue. The focus of the work in the district has not really taken into account disability as a central part of its focus,” said White. “We need someone at the top who’s going to be able to articulate a vision for this.”

While Superintendent Juneau was unavailable for comment on her plans to leave, she shared quick remarks about the decision during a Town Hall on Tuesday.

“One of the reasons I took this position many years ago was because of the district’s deep commitment to racial justice. As Seattle Public Schools' first native superintendent, advancing racial equity and social justice has been deeply personal to me and I’m really proud of the way we have moved the needle for students.”

Before her contract expires, Juneau is proposing to bring Pre-K through second grade students back for in-person learning daily by March, as well as students with disabilities.

“We know of other districts in the county where hundreds of students with disabilities who cannot access remote learning have been receiving in-person services since September,” said White.

In contrast, a “very tiny number of families” have managed to go through the “very cumbersome process” set up by the district to receive in-person services, according to White who questions the disparity between districts within King County.

“Our hope is that with new leadership, and a school board who is also committed to making change, that we can see improvement in the delivery of services to students with disabilities, and particularly students of color with disabilities. They often make up the largest group of students of disabilities and are the furthest away from educational justice,” said White.

Crowther said for real change to occur, the district needs to have an entirely new mindset focused on a systemic and cultural shift, and not just a change in one person.