News and Opinion from Sisters, Oregon

Taking on outdoor school controversy

A large turnout of parents and other community members attended the monthly Superintendent Coffee Chat last Wednesday morning. These Coffee Chats give the community a chance to discuss concerns and have an open roundtable discussion with each other, and with Schools Superintendent Curt Scholl.

Scholl is entering his eighth year as superintendent at the Sisters School District (SSD), and only twice has he seen a group this large turnout. And that was twice online and once in person during COVID restrictions in schools in 2020. This week’s discussion topic was focused mainly on the controversy that hit the Central Oregon area after news broke that Culver School District pulled their sixth-grade students from outdoor school at Camp Tamarack on October 17.

Sisters students, who attended Outdoor School at Camp Tamarack the week before, were not pulled from the camp, but parents voiced concerns about the separation of cabins and changing rooms based on biological sex versus gender identity. (See “Outdoor School becomes focus of controversy", The Nugget, November 2)

Scholl opened by stating how he appreciates and values the school district’s relationship with their parents and students. The turnout and civil discussion between parents and Superintendent Scholl highlighted the unique relationship between SSD and their students’ parents. There were more than 30 community members and parents in attendance Wednesday morning, all given the opportunity to weigh in on the matter.

Regan Roberts, who is a parent of a sixth-grader and a ninth-grader in the district, was in attendance. Her sixth- grade son attended outdoor school at Camp Tamarack.

“We have been here for 17 years and involved in the schools for many years,” she said. “I can only imagine how confusing and sad it was for the Culver kids with what happened with their experience, but my son had a great time and was not uncomfortable during his experience at Camp Tamarack, and said they had a great time.”

Much of the conversation was focused on what can be done to avoid controversy and conflict in years to come. Parents said that more communication with them would be appreciated and prevent future miscommunications when it comes to sending their kids on overnight events with the school.

According to Scholl, sixth-graders were interviewed after their outdoor school experience, and across the board, most students said they had a positive experience at outdoor school.

“No one was trying to mislead, we answered what we knew, and gender identity is a protected class under federal law,” said Scholl.

There are certain questions the school cannot ask when it comes to gender identity, and parents were made aware of that during the discussion on Wednesday.

“One thing we want to work on, that Justin Durham brought up in the Coffee Chat, was the idea of recruiting more Sisters High Schoolers to be counselors at outdoor school,” said Scholl in a later interview.

Scholl and the high school are working to increase recruitment of more SHS students as counselors, so students have the community and in-school connection with their counselors.

“It’s great for kids to come back and see their counselor in town or later at school, and have a relationship and community with each other,” said Scholl.

One parent stated at the meeting, “We want to make sure that we speak and converse in ways that are welcoming with each other and with our kids and make them feel comfortable while navigating and learning things that are new and scary.”

Wednesday evening at the school board meeting, community members were given the opportunity to speak during the community comments section. Andrew Davis, a parent of a sixth-grader, stated that he feels the District should cut ties with Camp Tamarack after the miscommunication and controversy. Parent and community member Christine Funk defended Camp Tamarack and their valuing of students and counselors from all backgrounds and identities.

Late last week, Camp Tamarack and Culver School District issued a joint statement after the controversy surrounding both parties. It read, in part:

“To clear up some misinformation that has been out there, students do not shower at Camp Tamarack during the Outdoor School experience and private changing areas are available for everyone.

We will all work to respect the values and identities of the people who participate in Outdoor School.

We will all work to make sure we are communicating with families before their students leave for camp so that they can make an informed decision about their child’s participation in Outdoor School.

Additionally, we will continue to work to recruit more high school student leaders from Culver High School — how great would that be?! We will all work to show that we can come together, even when we have differences, in a way that is respectful, attentive, and willing to be sensitive and solution oriented.”

Overall, the sentiment after the Superintendent Coffee Chat was that the Sisters community is ready and willing to have civil discussions surrounding controversial issues, and parents want to be involved in discussions surrounding their children’s school life.

Scholl expressed satisfaction at the way the issues were addressed in the informal gathering.

“To sum it up, I thought it was positive and the dialogue was really respectful, and everyone in there was concerned about their kids, and want what’s best for them, and hopefully now understand some of the guardrails we are up against as a school. That’s one of the best things about Sisters, is the encouraging civil dialogue and coming together and (moving) on.”


Reader Comments(1)

WakeupParents1 writes:

Notice the slight of hand here…. the solution is more high school counselors in the cabins!???That’s just another opportunity for even older biological males in girls’ spaces! The supervision needs to be an adult staff member who is same sex as the kids in the cabin.