Following uproar over a video that some Homer High School students called condescending, Rep. Sarah Vance, R-Homer, removed a Facebook live video she made last Thursday and released a new video apologizing for her comments.
“I want to extend a sincere apology to the students at Homer High School for making you feel devalued and that your voices don’t matter,” Vance said in the video on her Rep. Sarah Vance Facebook page.
In her first session as the District 31 representative who replaced Paul Seaton, Vance made the now-deleted video from her office in Juneau. Holding a stack of postcards sent to her by Homer High School students that Vance incorrectly claimed were paid for by the high school, she criticized the students for not including their names.
“A lot of my concern in reading them is none of them have addressed me as ‘Representative’ or ‘Representative Vance,’” she said. “Not a one.”
Vance said she found that troubling.
“We have many opportunities to engage our students on the proper way to talk to their representatives, to have a listening ear with those who represent them in their government,” Vance said. “We could talk to them in English class on how we write a letter.”
She said students also could learn in math class about the state government budget deficit of $1.6 million. They could talk in economic classes about how business build strong economies, she also said. Homer High School does not offer an economics class, as one student pointed out on a letter to the editor sent to the Homer News.
Many of the students wrote Vance that they were concerned with Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s proposed cuts to education funding, and that the Kenai Peninsula School District would have to cut sports and extracurricular activities like theater and Drama, Debates and Forensics.
“They have expressed they don’t want their sports or extracurriculars to go away, but I contend that we need to focus on academia,” Vance said. “… But if our children are having trouble as high schoolers communicating well with their leaders, then we are missing something.
“… I love you enough to tell you the truth,” she said. “We are failing our children. We can no longer equate the dollar value with education.”
Homer High School Student Council President Cora Parish — who is 18 and voted in the November election — said that after Vance’s Thursday video came out, friends texted her about it. Parish watched it with some other Homer High girls.
“We were very upset,” she said. “It wasn’t a good representation of how Homer High is.”
Parish said Vance only talked about the less well-written letters.
“It was very angering for me to see she didn’t take into consideration how students were using their voices or trying to get involved,” Parish said. “… There were many good, well-written letters we sent in. Most of them were well-written and thought out.”
Parish said the student council organized the letter-writing effort after the Kenai Peninsula School District released information on how Dunleavy’s budget would affect the district. Student council officers came up with the idea to offer students a chance to express their concerns at the end of a sport pep rally held Feb. 28. They put together a PowerPoint presentation shown at the end of the rally.
“We told the students with the budget cuts from the governor, this is what the school district is going to have to do to make up for the loss,” Parish said.
The student council set up a table with cards addressed to Vance for students to fill out. Homer High School Principal Douglas Waclawski told the students they could write they were for or opposed to Dunleavy’s budget, said school district spokesperson Pegge Erkeneff. Waclawski also sent out an email to remind staff that the district has to be nonpartisan and not tell students how to think about something.
“They got to write what they wanted to write,” Parish said. “They wrote either for or against, whatever they felt was best for them.”
Parish said that of Homer High’s about 400 students, 120 filled out postcards with comments. Printing and postage was paid for out of the student council’s funds, mostly raised at student dances.
“This was student initiated and student led,” Erkeneff said. “It was not required of any student to participate.”
Erkeneff confirmed Parish’s account of how the postcard writing opportunity happened and how it was paid for. It’s not uncommon for KPBSD students to speak out on issues affecting them, Erkeneff said.
“There’s always learning that can happen both for students and adults and how we can listen better,” she said. “… I think we’re a small state and students are discovering they can learn about issues that can affect their communities.”
Erkeneff said that last Thursday, before making last week’s video, Vance called the school district about the student postcards. The district was in the process of researching the student council effort but did not have a chance to respond to Vance before she made the video.
On Tuesday, Parish said she had not yet seen Vance’s apology video. Student Council sophomore class representative Larry Dunn said he had seen it.
“I definitely appreciated it,” he said on Tuesday. “I appreciate her willingness to apologize, that she’s willing to accept blame for her mistakes.”
In the apology, Vance acknowledged that she talked about the postcards “in a way that caused you pain.”
“That was not my intention,” she said. “Please hear my heart. I truly care about what you have to say and I want to hear from and I was not respectful to you and that I am truly sorry.”
Vance’s original video has been taken off her Facebook page, but the political blog Midnight Sun Alaska has it available at this link:
Reach Michael Armstrong at firstname.lastname@example.org.