The Chilling Effect – Foulke Slapped Down by the Ferndale School Board

Last week at the Ferndale School Board public meeting, School Board Member Hugh Foulke was given the “chilling effect.”  image

 In a legal context, a chilling effect is the inhibition or discouragement of the legitimate exercise of natural and legal rights by the threat of legal sanction.[1] The right that is most often described as being suppressed by a chilling effect is the US constitutional right to free speech.

Hugh Foulke ‘s treatment at the Ferndale School Board’s open public meeting last week needs to be addressed. Mr. Foulke is a public servant to the people. The people have placed their trust in him (as we do all public representatives) to represent the best interests of the citizen’s, but most especially to the children. Mr. Foulke was publicly chastised for speaking on this program as a private individual. I will leave the legal do’s and don’ts of that to the experts. As reported to me by people present at this meeting, Mr. Foulke was rebuked for over an hour because he shared the results of his questionnaire and his concerns about a $125M school bond levy. Mr. Foulke dialed into the Ferndale residents by performing an independent, personal poll of why people “were” or “were not” supporting the bond request. What was done to Mr. Foulke has a label. It is called the “chilling effect.”

If all politicians were as dedicated to the process of representing the people as Mr. Foulke, shouldn’t that be a good thing?

~ Kris Halterman

FSB – Discussion of Foulke Foulke Survey Ferndale Record Article

Ferndale School Board scolds Foulke for radio spot on bond

Mark Reimers

• Wed, February 19, 2014

Lengthy ‘discussion’ also criticizes community survey

FERNDALE — The Ferndale School Board, along with district administration, combined to deal a harsh lecture that lasted more than an hour during its Feb. 11 meeting.

The target of the group’s angst? Fellow board member Hugh Foulke.

The discussion of “School Board Operating Norms,” as it was labeled on the agenda, was a surprise to Foulke, who stirred the board’s frustration when he sat for an interview on a local talk radio program.

“I’m still sort of stunned,” Foulke said in an interview with the Record on Friday, noting that he has a lot he would like to say to the board and will probably do so in writing.

School board president Lee Anne Riddle said the purpose of the discussion was twofold: First, to express to Foulke the board’s concerns so he will think about them in the future. Second, to put the rest of the board’s version of the situation on public record in response to his radio interview.

The radio program, which aired Feb. 1, was Saturday Morning Live with Kris Halterman. During the show he shared his misgivings regarding the $125 million Ferndale High School bond. He also shared on the program his individual efforts to survey residents of the school district regarding their opinions on the bond and why.

Board members were given a seven-page, point-by-point discussion guide that not only explored the radio interview in 15 separate chunks, but also brought up past episodes of similar grievances in an effort to establish a pattern of behavior that the board considered disrespectful to the body and ill-suited for a school district representative.

Quinn is credited in the document with organizing the interview into the 15 chunks for discussion.

The document opens by naming both the interview and Foulke’s survey itself as being problematic, in part, because he did both without informing the board of his actions ahead of time, a “violation of teamwork and trust,” according to the document.

Foulke acknowledged several times to the Record that he believes good communication is desirable and that the board could improve dramatically in this area.

The discussion guide tacitly approved of Foulke’s efforts to disclaim his radio interview by noting that his views were his own and that he did not speak for the board. But it went on to say that it didn’t matter — that, in a sense, he always speaks for the district by virtue of his position.

The document dug into the past to bolster this criticism of Foulke by mentioning as related problems his public support for the Gateway Pacific Terminal project and opinions he expressed regarding the closure of Mountain View Elementary School.

Riddle said the board did not officially censure Foulke. In the discussion guide, however, Foulke is accused of forcing the district to report itself to the state Public Disclosure Commission due to parts of his survey that administration worried constituted campaigning.

The survey also prompted the board to complain that individual surveys such as Foulke’s are off-limits in favor of centralized community surveys that are built collaboratively.

“Four of us felt like Hugh didn’t follow our agreed-upon protocol,” Riddle said, noting that in addition to the school board’s own social contract governing conduct, it also holds to the standards set forth by the Washington State School Directors’ Association.

The document swears off any notion that Foulke was being punished for dissenting from the majority on the decision to run the bond.

Foulke, for his part, defended his survey, noting that he did it not to find out who was for or against the bond, but rather what reasons they had.

One of the questions on the bond asks No voters whether a $60 million bond figure would change their mind.

“$60 million is just approximately half, that’s all,” Foulke said. “It’s perfectly innocent.”

Foulke said his goal was to reach at least 20 people in each one of the five areas of the school district for the face-to-face poll. The format, he said, is important to him, due to high degree of nuance you can pick up with personal contact.

“But I have to believe that it is legal in America to go find out what people think,” Foulke said.

Many of the discussion points are sprawling in their scope as they attempt to rebut Foulke’s on-air comments. In one case, the writer claims Foulke implied that the rest of the board members had no consciences when he said he didn’t support the bond based on his own conscience.

Foulke noted that he isn’t interested in further damaging his relationship with the other board members. However, he did contest many “discussion” points that implied he wasn’t interested in teamwork or school facilities.

In addition, Foulke said, arguments over the relative importance of a new high school tend to obscure the fact that great work is already being initiated to improve graduation rates.

“Ferndale High School has a disproportionately high number of students that drop out (as early as) 9th and 10th grades,” Foulke said. “That’s a serious issue.”

“I do agree that the high school has plenty of physical problems. In this economy maybe we should take care of those problems incrementally,” Foulke said. “I’m not at war with the board. I like the superintendent and I think she is a terribly able person, very dedicated. I just happened to disagree with her. She has the interests of the average students at heart, not just the best and brightest.”

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7 comments

  1. Let me see if I got this straight: The school board are elected from the community to represent their community. From the smack-down at the ballot box last week, it seems pretty obvious that Hugh was the only one who really is aligned with his constituents.

    Now the board wants to censure him for exercising his First Amendment right to express some well-reasoned observations about the facts on the ground on a radio program with a listener base that would have voted the same regardless of his opinion. Even so, did none of the pro-tax board members get on the media and express their views?

    Even if the election commission finds Hugh in contempt of some arbitrary ruling, I would say the First Amendment trumps misguided regulations every time — even if some supreme court upholds said regulations. You can be right and still go to jail. Ask Nelson Mandela (well you should have asked him when you had the chance).

  2. I’ve been asked by friends to run for the school board. I just can’t. I just don’t think that government education should get any money. I cannot make an honest run for office in a system I think should be dismantled. Locked up with government regulations, K-12 education is UNABLE to serve students.

    School boards no longer exist to superintend local schools. Their job now is to figure out how to comply with state and federal regulations. They are UNABLE to truly make much difference in how things are locally run. Foulke taught within K-12 for some years, and has student and family interests at heart. He didn’t do anything wrong by asking constituents what they think. If school boards did more of this they might avoid some of the mis-steps that Ferndale has taken. Here are some that I have observed since my kids were in Ferndale Schools:

    FSB refused to consider building a second high school. Due to school size, FHS is in a sports league that requires them to travel outside Whatcom County to most games. If students were split between two high schools then most games would be in Whatcom County against other Whatcom County schools. Windward High School is a subset of FHS for sports purposes, and does not appear to have a sports program of its own.

    FSB has pretty well neglected their outlying elementary schools, Custer and North Bellingham. The reasoning I heard was that the concentration of growth was on the hill in Ferndale, and that for transportation purposes it would be cheaper to bus outlying students in than to build or maintain those schools. Never mind that there are hundreds of parents with miles to drive to school functions, even when those schools are in an outlying location. The money IS more important than the kids or their families.

    Cascadia elementary was built with increasing population on the hill in mind. If I remember correctly, the population vanished and brand-new Cascadia was going to be mothballed instead for a time. But the roof on the older part of the building at North Bellingham Elementary (this IS a Ferndale school) pretty much dissolved one year, causing closer examination of that building. It was full of mildew and asbestos, and it was determined to be unsafe in an earthquake. Quickly abandoned one summer (2007? 2008?), the entire North Bellingham neighborhood is now bused to Cascadia, on the other side of Ferndale from North Bellingham, about 5 miles away.

    I guess the population on the hill never materialized. Mountain View elementary at the foot of the hill to the south was also closed. Windward High School was given space in the newer buildings at North Bellingham, dismaying families hoping something would be done to allow that property to serve its own neighborhood. Three nearby private schools in this area have been thriving, because people want to be closer to their kids’ schools. The loss of these students has caused a loss of funding for them from the state as well.

    I think voters would have gotten behind projects that let neighborhoods be neighborhoods and families be closer to the schools their kids attend. Custer, Mt. View, and N. Bellingham should have been rebuilt, perhaps as Shuksan Middle School was, turning the sports field into a new building and taking down the old building to become a sports field. Newer schools should be built for the existing population, with the possibility of both expansion and shrinkage to accommodate changing populations. Populations change!

    But a $400 – $600 yearly increase in my property taxes to build a new high school when these other projects are left virtually undiscussed? I’ll vote for more Hugh Foulkes but not for more money. Foulke had remarkably kind words for his fellow board members following the tongue lashing from them. Serving on a school board or other public office isn’t about making elected officials part of a team. Members serve those who elect them. Elections aren’t a popularity contest. Making it to the school board doesn’t put you in the ‘in’ group. I’m sorry they acted that way.

    • Well said Molly. I am often left wondering if incidents like Columbine could have been avoided if our public education had maintained more localized schools. The Administration of many small schools might be more difficult on the staff, but it would create a close knit community where teachers and students actually know one another, experience a more satisfying school day, raise student test scores and the student doesn’t feel like a cog on a treadmill. ~ Kris H.

  3. You got to be kidding me! A “violation of teamwork and trust,”. The last thing we need is a elected board colluding against the will of the people. We need independence on our elected boards. Hugh’s is an educator who cares, nothing wrong with that.

    • Yes, Hugh Foulke is a committed force to educate children as his number one priority. That is a good thing which should be honored and admired in any public official. ~ Kris H.

  4. I experienced a similar “chilling effect” in my two years serving as a school board member. There is no tolerance for individual thought. It is an “us versus them” mindset. My support came from the bus garage (Siberia) which is where the other non-conformists go if they speak out to much. My time on the school board was a good learning experience but I learned that politics is not good for me even if I might be good at it. It is better to let the broken system fail then to spend time or money trying to fix it.

    • Sorry to learn that the “chilling effect” was done to you too. If a dissenting voice is not put to the head of the class, listened to and addressed in the process of coming up with solutions…what is a republic about, and why make “free speech” the number one protected activities of our nation? ~ Kris

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