Schools: kids stay home, and the Pirate stays put, for now

Cases in King County are on the rise; islanders want Vashon High School’s pirate mascot to stay.

In-person school won’t start Nov. 9

Last week, Vashon Island School District notified parents in an email that its tentative plans to re-open schools for hybrid, in-person learning as early as Nov. 9 have now shifted to a later date, due to a rise in the coronavirus cases in King County.

The original target date of Nov. 9 for kindergartners to return to Chautauqua Elementary School, followed by higher CES grades sequentially in the ensuing weeks, was announced by VISD Superintendent Slade McSheehy on Oct. 8. At the time, McSheehy said the start date was dependent on King County improving its metrics for COVID-19 activity.

That has not happened.

In early October, the total number of cases for 14 days per 100,000 people in King County had dipped to 53 — well into the moderate range that Washington’s Department of Health has said could allow hybrid learning.

However, cases in King County are now on an uptick. On Oct. 16, data showed that cases have climbed back to the high range, at 92 per 100,000 people.

For more information on the VISD’s plans for hybrid learning, visit, and click on the “Coronavirus Community Update” button.

Pirate won’t walk the plank, board member says

Also last week, islanders weighed in on social media and in letters to the school board, with most telling the board and administration of VHS to not consider replacing Vashon High School’s pirate mascot.

At the past two school board meetings, the idea had been briefly discussed, prompted by a letter from island activist Hilary Emmer that suggested replacing the mascot. In her letter, Emmer said that pirates had participated in the slave trade, were known for “raping and pillaging” and were “lawless people who rob, destroy and attack.”

Emmer is a longtime islander who has served as Vashon’s unofficial mayor and spearheaded many local efforts to assist low-income people. Through the years, she has also been vocal in both supporting and opposing various ballot measures for tax levies affecting Vashon’s park district, hospital district and schools.

At both board meetings, board member Zabette Macomber expressed strong support of Emmer’s idea, and on Oct. 15, both she and board chair Rheagan Sparks urged the community to let the board know what they thought of the idea.

“To pirate or not to pirate, that is the question,” said Sparks.

Hundreds of islanders responded on at least three different community Facebook pages. Some commenters detailed the complex history of piracy, saying that pirates were a multi-ethnic group that included women and formerly enslaved people. Others decried the loss of tradition if the pirate was replaced, and pointed out the costs to the district of rebranding.

Support for the pirate crossed political divides, with some saying that replacing the pirate would be the work of liberal “snowflakes,” while others said replacing the pirate would be, at most, a performative act.

“It’s the path of least resistance for white folks to act like they’re woke and tackling equity,” one comment read. “We have real racial and socioeconomic issues in the district that are impacting our students. It requires huge individual and systemwide efforts to change, but apparently, that’s just too much for the adults to handle, so yea, let’s change the mascot.”

Responding to the uproar on her official board member Facebook page, Macomber said that the debate over the pirate “seems to have bloomed into something that it [was] never intended to be” and vowed that “the pirate isn’t going anywhere.”

“What we really need to be focusing on now is supporting students as they struggle with online learning, supporting teachers as they try to reach every student; making sure everyone has tech support; if/when we can ever move to hybrid what that will look like; making sure families have enough food on the table; making sure our students have access to mental health; keeping on with our Racial Equity work; and that we continue to get through this pandemic with grace and kindness,” she wrote.

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