More service for special studentsPeter Harris wants to hear what kids want from schools.
June 9, 2008 · Updated 3:57 PM
"Calling for better programs for special-needs students, civil and consumer rights attorney Peter Harris is seeking a post on the Bainbridge Island School Board.Harris challenges one-term incumbent Susan Sivitz for the District 2 school board seat. The theme of my campaign is community, Harris said. I feel we have a strong community on Bainbridge Island, but many parents of special needs kids find that when it comes to those special needs, and the requirements federally imposed on school districts to provide services, the community breaks down.Harris said that his observations about district shortcomings are not just his opinion, but are based on federal and state law. He points to what he calls an alarming number of cases brought by families of special ed students, dissatisfied with the services provided by the district.Harris wants a forum for parents of special needs children and typically developing children, to discuss concerns and work toward inclusion. The parents who don't have kids with special needs perhaps don't appreciate what an asset these children are as friends and peers to their children, Harris said. Despite his special education advocacy, Harris emphasizes that he wants to consider the needs of all students and those who might go elsewhere to school. He proposes to meet with groups of students of all ages - particularly high school age - to ask why they are leaving the district. What's wrong with the high school? Harris asks. I'd like to get some answers for my own edification and for the school district's. The island kids are incredibly articulate and bright. Let's find out from them what they want.Harris is focused on strengthening school programs and classes for gifted students. He says he would help find funding to support what he describes as the wonderful school programs we have.I think there is enough wealth on Bainbridge Island to come up with the resources to make our kids feel like they're going to the best schools in the country, he said. Harris has not been a volunteer in the Bainbridge schools, putting his energy instead into involvement with special needs families.He and his wife Karyl have two children, a son who attends St. Barnabas' pre-school and a daughter entering third grade at Wilkes. Harris moved to Bainbridge six years ago to be near other family members; his parents, brother and cousin all live in the Puget Sound area.Harris has been on the board of governors for Washington State Trial Lawyers for four years. He is a former chair of the Washington State Bar Association consumer protection committee. During his 1998-2000 tenure, Harris says, he turned the low-key group into a true advocate for consumer interests.He also lobbied in Olympia for legal issues of concern to consumers and families. Harris said he will campaign with a web site and island-wide mailings.I'm going to campaign by presenting my name, face and issues to as many people as I can, he said. "