SEATTLE - Teachers at Seattle’s Broadview Thomson K-8 school are speaking out about their safety and the safety of their students.
Staff and educators at the school are calling on Seattle Public Schools to take action about the homeless encampment that is right behind the school on district property.
Teachers are concerned that when students return in the fall the camp could still be there.
“We have been worried about the safety of the staff and the students for quite some time now,” said Natalee Powell, a second-grade teacher at Broadview Thomson K-8 and the Seattle Education Association's representative for the school. “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. This is not how I want to end my second-grade year with my kids.”
On Friday Broadview Thomson teachers sent a letter to Dr. Brent Jones, Seattle Public Schools interim superintendent, the Seattle School Board and Mayor Jenny Durkan detailing community concerns and the impacts of the encampment on the school.
The letter cites safety concerns, negative impacts on social and emotional health of students, increased tension between the Bitter Lake community and school and decreased enrollment for the fall. (The full text of the letter can be found below.)
Bryce Nicolls' son is currently a remote student at the school but that will change next year.
“We are already enrolling him in Connections Academy for home school because of this,” said Bryce Nicolls who is a parent of a fourth-grader at Broadview Thomson K-8.
The Nicolls family lives in an apartment right across from the encampment.
“It's out of control, it's loud, honestly - it's frightening,” said Nicolls. “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.”
Powell says she has had some parents express concern about their children on the playground at recess with the encampment so close. Today the district put up four-foot plastic tarps on the chain length fence that separates the camp from the school campus.
Teachers say it’s not a solution.
KOMO News asked Powell if the district has or school board has talked with teachers about what they plan to do next.
“The only thing I know of them saying is that this is a chance to teach empathy, and they are working with community outreach programs. However we still haven't seen a change and the camp is growing,” said Powell.
Staff at Broadview Thomson are also calling for a solution for the unhoused including services and a safe place to live.
“I would hate to just simply move them out,” said Powell. “But they’re so close to the students that right now there's got to be a huge change and there needs to be a place for them to go because right next to our playground is not where they should be,” said Powell.
Seattle Public Schools had no comment about the letter send by teachers, which is reprinted below in its entirety:
To: Dr. Brent Jones, Seattle Public Schools Interim Superintendent; Mayor Jenny Durkan
Subject: Unauthorized Bitter Lake Camp on School Property next to Broadview-Thomson PK-8
Tension in the Bitter Lake community between campers and renters/homeowners has put Broadview- Thomson staff and administrators in the middle of a challenging conversation about homelessness, that is garnering local and national news attention. Concerns about student safety and illegal activity in the Bitter Lake Camp are being brought to Broadview-Thomson admin and staff on an almost daily basis. Staff and families have expressed not feeling safe at Broadview-Thomson.
Community concerns: Illegal activities in the park, community safety, access to green spaces, access to sanitation and hygiene facilities for campers and for the health of the community. The community is also concerned what will happen with the upcoming lifting of the eviction ban and planned summer youth activities occurring on the school site and at the community center.
Campers and their advocates are asking for compassion and support during a national homelessness crisis. They have expressed a need for access to facilities for hygiene and sanitation along with other resources and are working with some local churches to help meet these needs. There are also concerns about the safety of campers as there have been some reports of harassment.
School Impact: Safety concerns for students and staff, negative impact on the social and emotional health of our students, increased tension between the larger Bitter Lake community and Broadview- Thomson PK-8, decreased enrollment for fall.
We are concerned about the tone of the rhetoric in the community around the camp at Bitter Lake and the impact on our students, especially those who have or may be experiencing homelessness. There has been an increase in the presence of police and emergency response services on and near the school campus triggering fears in the school community. Staff are uncertain how to respond to questions and comments by parents and students about the camp. Staff have also expressed feeling unsafe after reported incidences of weapons and fighting in the camp.
Our school does not have the acute skills or resources to mediate these significant concerns. 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.
Communication: We need Seattle Public Schools to do more to engage and communicate with the Broadview-Thomson PK-8 and Broadview/Bitter Lake community. What is the SPS official stance on homeless encampments on school property and specifically Broadview Thomson? What has the district done to address concerns? What are next steps the district plans to take? Where can we direct families and community members who have questions and concerns?
Action: What support can SPS offer staff and students of Broadview-Thomson who may be feeling unsafe or uncertain about what is going on in our school environment? What resources are available to staff help us respond to students and families? To help destigmatize homelessness? What supports and social services will the City of Seattle offer to the campers at Bitter Lake? How are resources for groups experiencing homelessness prioritized and allocated?
What data points are used? Will SPS provide a list of action steps and timeline to Broadview- Thomson PK-8 and the Bitter Lake/Broadview Community?
We understand that this is a complicated issue and are not advocating 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. We ask that SPS and the City of Seattle work together to give this matter immediate attention.
Anne Sylte Bloom
Teacher & Building Leadership Team Chairperson
Teachers & SEA Building Leaders
Broadview Thomson PTA