Teachers at a Seattle public school are urging the district’s leaders and the city’s mayor to address an “out of control” homeless encampment behind the school that has caused students to fear for their safety, and parents to enroll their children elsewhere, KOMO reported Tuesday.
Teachers at Broadview Thompson K-8 school, part of the Seattle Public Schools, sent the letter to interim superintendent Dr. Brent Jones, the Seattle School Board and Democratic Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan, and pleaded with them to respond to their concerns and those of families worried about their children’s safety, according to KOMO.
— KOMO Newsradio (@komonewsradio) May 19, 2021
The letter says “concerns about student safety and illegal activity” at the homeless camp are being brought to the school’s attention on a nearly daily basis as the camp continues to grow. Weapons and fighting have made staff and students feel unsafe, and could possibly negatively impact the “social and emotional health” of students. (RELATED: Samurai Sword, Throwing Axe In Homeless Encampment Near School But City Remains Silent)
“Our school does not have the acute skills or resources to mediate these significant concerns,” the letter says. “ As school staff our primary responsibility and focus is our student’s emotional and educational needs. We are requesting that the City of Seattle and Seattle Public Schools work together to address community concerns.”
The letter says the “tone of the rhetoric” over the homeless camps could also trigger students, especially with the increased presence of police and emergency response service in the community.
Natalee Powell, a second-grade teacher at the school, told KOMO that the only stance the school board has taken is telling staff that the camps gave them an opportunity to teach “empathy” and that they’re working with community outreach programs.
“However we still haven’t seen a change and the camp is growing,” Powell said. Powell mentioned that the district put up four-foot plastic tarps on a fence separating the camp from the school, but that it isn’t a solution.
“The other day there was a loud noise and my students jumped in class and asked if it was a gunshot and if it came from the playground,” Powell told KOMO. “This is not how I want to end my second-grade year with my kids.
The letter also cites an enrollment decline at the school. Bryce Nicolls, who has a child enrolled at the school, told KOMO he had already enrolled his son in an online learning program because of the camp.
“It’s out of control, it’s loud, honestly — it’s frightening,” he told KOMO. “I would like the campers to get help, but they can’t be here next to the school. The school is supposed to be a safe place for our children, all of our children.”
The letter acknowledges that homelessness is a “complicated issue” and states that the teachers aren’t calling for a “sweep.”
“However, the lack of adequate communication, support, and resources, to engage the Bitter Lake community about their concerns, is adding to a tense atmosphere that is in danger of doing more harm than good in the name of compassion,” the letter said according to KOMO.
A month earlier, Seattle School Board President Chandra Hampson and Director Zachary DeWolf issued a statement on the camps, saying that “students deserve to see the adults behave compassionately and responsibly in the face of a tragically mounting homelessness crisis” and sweeps weren’t “compassionate.”
Washington has one of the highest populations of homeless people in the country, ranking among the top 10, Security.org found in a report. In 2019, the state had more than 22,000 homeless people. California, which had the largest homeless population, had nearly 130,000 homeless people.
Between 2019 and 2020, Washington saw one of the largest increases in homelessness in the country with an overall increase of 6.2%, the Seattle Times reported. The homeless population across the U.S. grew by more than 2%.