Tim Clark plans to remain on the Kent School Board but has resigned as president after public outcry over a comment he made at a public meeting about Somalia families in the Kent School District.
Clark submitted his resignation as president at a March 24 special meeting following an executive session when the board discussed the issue in private. The board returned to its public meeting and voted 4-0 to accept his resignation. The board also approved a collective statement about the matter.
“The board of directors is aware of certain insensitive comments made by its board president concerning a minority group in Kent,” according to the statement. “President Clark has submitted his resignation as board president and the board will take further collective action on this matter on Wednesday, March 29.”
That special meeting and executive session is set for 7 to 8 p.m. The agenda on the district’s website states the purpose of this executive session is to discuss with legal counsel employee work performance, potential litigation and the legal or financial risks of a course of action.
During a March 20 joint study session between the school board and the Covington City Council, Clark talked about the impact of elementary school boundary changes on refugee families and then referred to a “colony of Somalis.”
The KSD Discussion Group, a Facebook page with more than 5,400 members that keeps a close watch on the Kent School District and school board, first noted Clark’s comment. Michele Bettinger, a former school board member, posted a comment about what she heard Clark say while listening to the meeting.
Many members of the group were outraged at the comment and caused Tomara Lucrisia, a teacher at Mill Creek Middle School, to attend the March 22 regular school board meeting to speak to the matter.
”I can’t understand why we allow certain comments to go unchecked,” Lucrisia said. “It doesn’t matter how hurtful it is. …they said what they said. On the eve of Ramadan, I will never ever, ever want to hear anybody else from this dais refer to a group of people as a colony of anything.
”I don’t know how we allow this, why we allow this. …we know better. I know who you are and now I believe who you are because you showed me.”
Clark responded to the comments by Lucrisia during board member’s personal reports near the end of the meeting.
He said the speaker “was offended. …when he used a phraseology of a particular community,” and then explained further.
“A group of families that were Somalians and lived in housing, I referred to as a Somali colony and I apologize for that,” said Clark, who was elected by voters to a four-year board term in November 2021.
Clark then talked about how he taught for 14 years at Kentridge High School before serving 16 years on the Kent City Council where he helped deal with the settlement of refugees from Somalia. Clark also served on the school board from 2009 to 2013 after leaving the council.
“I am sorry for anyone I offended and that I didn’t use the right terminology,” Clark said.
Those comments by Clark led to more members of the KSD Facebook Group criticizing Clark and some who said he should resign from the board.
The board took public comment during its March 24 special meeting before Clark announced his resignation as president.
Michelle McCormick, a Kent School District parent, told Clark what she thought of his initial comment and his apology.
“Last week I was very concerned about some comments that were made by a member of this board that were misguided and inappropriate if not outright racist,” said McCormick, who was accompanied to the meeting by students from Kent-Meridian High School’s Civil Rights Club. “To make matters worse, an apology was issued at the board meeting on Wednesday night (March 22) that was severely out of touch and really was not an apology at all but the speaker’s attempt at justification for the earlier comments. And to top it off, most of the other board directors sat by and were silent.
“As a KSD parent, I am embarrassed that anyone in a leadership position in this district would make these type of comments. You are the face of one of the most diverse districts in the country yet seem to lack any idea of what cultural sensitivity means.
“Our children deserve better. They deserve your best. I implore each of you to take a stand and do what is right by speaking out against the harmful language and actions of one of your own.
“As Martin Luther King Jr. said ‘the time is always right to do what is right.’”
Board members Meghin Margel and Awale Farah each commented at the special meeting about the Clark matter.
“Through all of this we have realized that words matter and I please ask the community’s respectful time to make sure we have a thoughtful collective from all of us,” Margel said.
Margel also said that board member Joe Bento, who was unable to attend the meeting, told her he agreed with her statement.
Farah, who is from Somalia, said a lack of response from board members to Clark’s initial comment doesn’t mean they agreed with it.
“When we sit here and sometimes don’t say anything it doesn’t mean we are condoning what is being said,” Farah said. “We have a procedure on how to do things. Because we are the governing body we have to be thoughtful on how we say so. Maybe the community doesn’t see us being angry or distaste about what is being said but that does not mean we are not feeling that.”
The five-member board voted 4-0 in December 2022 to elect Clark as president. Bento abstained from the vote. The board voted 4-1 to elect Farah as vice president. Bento voted for himself.