Kent School Board members from left to right: Leslie Hamada, Joe Bento, Awale Farah, Tim Clark and Meghin Margel. COURTESY PHOTO, Kent School District

Kent School Board members from left to right: Leslie Hamada, Joe Bento, Awale Farah, Tim Clark and Meghin Margel. COURTESY PHOTO, Kent School District

Kent School Board limited in discipline of fellow members

State association explains what steps can be taken against former Board President Tim Clark

The Kent School Board is limited in what steps it can take in response to an insensitive comment about Somali families made by then-President Tim Clark, according to the Washington State School Directors Association.

Clark resigned March 24 as president (the board voted to accept his resignation) but remains on the five-member board after a reference at a March 20 study session to “a colony of Somalis.”

Several residents have asked at recent board meetings for Clark to resign or be removed. A board cannot remove another member.

“The only way to remove a school board member (or any elected official for that matter) is by the recall process,” said Abigail Westbrook, director of Policy and Legal Services for the association in an April 1 email to the Kent News.

Voters would need to file a recall petition. Any demands for a board member to resign also are limited in what that can accomplish.

“Anyone (another board member or a member of the public) can ask someone to resign, but there is no authority associated with such an ask,” Westbrook said.

The Olympia-based Washington State School Directors Association is a nonpartisan state agency charged with supporting the work of all 1,477 locally elected school board members, according to its website. Every school board member in the state is a member. Board members are entitled to the resources, materials and opportunities that the association provides. The group has about 16 full-time employees.

Wesbrook said a board can censure one of its members, by voting to do so. A censure is a statement of disapproval of someone for what they said or did.

“An official censure does not strip the censured board member of any basic powers of office, such as voting,” Westbrook said. “The purpose of a censure is to distance the whole board from the offending member, which is sometimes helpful if a board member will not apologize or if the community is likely to think that the whole board endorses the behavior of the board member in question.”

Westbrook said, however, boards need to be careful by taking a censure vote.

“Censure is not a step that boards should take lightly because it can intensify the conflict and weaken the board’s ability to function and do its basic business,” Westbrook said. “Generally, censure is not recommended as a an initial or immediate step. The first step is simply to assess the situation and talk with the board member. Censure is usually reserved as a last step, after determining that other forms of working through the issue are not effective.”

Clark apologized for his comment at a March 24 special board meeting when he resigned as president and at a March 22 regular board meeting when a public speaker raised the issue. Voters elected Clark in November 2021. His four-year term expires in 2025.

The Kent School Board has not said what other steps it might take beyond taking a “collective action.”

The board has called a special meeting work session for 5 p.m. Wednesday, April 5. The agenda is discussion about Culture and Communities led by the Kent School District’s Simone Hamilton, director of Equity and Strategic Engagement.

”Wednesdays are routinely scheduled for the board to hold their meetings, whether regular or special,” said district spokesperson Faith Sisley in an April 3 email. “Work sessions are special meetings, and this agenda was pre-planned as a continuation of the board’s ongoing development related to roles and responsibilities.”

Editor’s note: This story has been updated with a quote from the district about the April 5 meeting.

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