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World photo/Don Seabrook Cyclists ride along the Apple Capital Loop Trail and by the new Residence Inn near Walla Walla Point Park Thursday, Feb. 25, 2021. Direct access to the park is one of the benefits advertised by the new hotel still under construction.

Wenatchee teacher a finalist for national math and science teaching award

WENATCHEE — Whether it’s taking students out to study the snow or to the airport to study aerodynamics or creating a workshop where students and families can learn computer programming, Tina Nicpan Brown is full of ideas for educating her students.

Those ideas have led her to be selected as one of three state elementary school science teacher finalists for the state 2020 Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching.

Nicpan Brown is a fifth-grade teacher at Wenatchee’s Lincoln Elementary School, though the pandemic prompted a change this year, moving her to the Wenatchee Internet Academy, the all-online school option for Wenatchee students.

The other finalists are Julie Fry, a first-grade teacher at Roosevelt Elementary in Yakima and Allison Greenberg, a K–5 STEM coordinator at Woodside Elementary School in Everett.

The finalists were selected by a statewide selection committee comprised of content area experts and award-winning teachers from nominations submitted last summer.

“It’s not something I ever expected knowing how many amazing educators are nominated every year; and when I found out and saw my initial scores, it was a humbling experience and a time for me to really reflect on how I could represent all of the community groups that have helped me with my big ideas,” Nicpan Brown said.

Nicpan Brown was nominated for the award by Sue Kane of the North Central Educational Service District. The two have worked together on a number of projects over the past seven years.

Kane said Nicpan Brown sees her job as an educator to help students connect with the community.

“Civic engagement and career connection is something that she takes really seriously. Many students that come through her class haven’t been outside of Wenatchee or maybe they haven’t really explored all that is in Wenatchee,” Kane said.

A Chicago native, Nicpan Brown graduated from Illinois State University in 1996. She picked up a master’s degree in Technology Integration in 2000 and a second master’s degree in Providing Professional Development for Adult Educators in 2006.

Her commitment to education has been recognized in the past. She was nominated for NEA Teaching Excellence in 2020 and in 2017 was named the STEM Educator of the Year by the Greater Wenatchee Area Technology Alliance. Over the years, she has been awarded more than $180,000 in grants for education.

This is her 21st year of teaching, the past 15 in Wenatchee. While most might not say the pandemic has been good for their career, that has not been the case for Nicpan Brown.

“I have to say it has been a fabulous experience for me in my professional career. I have taught at Lincoln for the entire time I have lived in Washington. I was asked at the beginning of this year to teach at the Wenatchee Internet Academy,” Nicpan Brown said.

The WIA, which previously was just for high school students, opened enrollment to students in kindergarten through eighth grade this year due to the pandemic. With her background in integration and professional development, Nicpan Brown has enjoyed not only supporting educators with technology this year but being able to implement what she feels are her skills with her students, who attend class 100% virtually.

seabrook / World photo/Don Seabrook 

Tina Nicpan Brown, Wenatchee, works with her Wenatchee Internet Academy students from her home Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2021.

“My students who are with me, their families made the choice to be in a virtual setting. The opportunity I can provide is very different than the students in a traditional classroom right now,” she said. “I feel not only lucky, but privileged, to try things I have been studying and researching for years in terms of virtual or remote instruction.”

Working in the remote setting would seem to be a perfect fit, Nicpan Brown said, but this does not signal a career move.

“Many opportunities this year have been offered to me that I have taken advantage of in my free time. However, my heart is with students and their families,” Nicpan Brown said. “I’m not sure if I’ll ever be ready to not be directly involved with a classroom of students and their families.”

Wenatchee Superintendent Paul Gordon has seen Nicpan Brown in action first hand. At the Feb. 23 Wenatchee School Board meeting, Gordon talked about how Nicpan Brown connects science through engagement and real-world experiences.

“I was able to see last year when she brought students to an outdoor YMCA camp where students were building igloos and exploring the wilderness. They were spending the night in pretty low-tech cabins,” Gordon said. “She is just an incredible educator who continues to make a difference. We’re just really proud of her for that award. Super excited.”

seabrook / World photo/Don Seabrook 

Science teacher Tina Nicpan Brown, Wenatchee, praises a student while covering precipitation from her home Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2021.

Kane said Nicpan Brown would get students to do an entire educational unit in the snow, building things. Another unit saw her take students to Pangborn Airport to study different aspects of aerodynamics.

In terms of being an educational pioneer, Kane said Nicpan Brown brought an Hour of Code to Wenatchee students a few years ago. Kane worked behind the scenes to develop the event to make it fun and engaging for students and their families.

Kane said Nicpan Brown has helped mentor her to expand the learning opportunities to other schools across the region, although last year was odd because of COVID.

”The year prior, we had 33 elementary schools across the region implementing that model of an Hour of Code that Tina started,” Kane said. “I would say she is one of the people in the community that is one of my personal heroes just in the way she approaches her work and her roles. It’s more than a job, it’s a passion.”

The winner of the national Presidential Award for Excellence will get a certificate signed by the President of the United States and a $10,000 award from the National Science Foundation.

Nicpan Brown said, if she won, $5,000 would go to the Community Foundation of NCW for an endowment so teachers could apply for grants to take their students into the field. The other $5,000 would go to pay her student loans.

The winner will be announced sometime in August.

Supreme Court strikes down law that makes unintentional possession of drugs a crime

OLYMPIA — A divided Washington Supreme Court has struck down as unconstitutional a longstanding law that made it a felony to possess illegal drugs even if you didn’t know you had them.

The court used the 2016 arrest of a Spokane woman, Shannon Blake, to revisit Washington’s “strict-liability” drug possession law, which the Legislature adopted in the 1950s. The court has reviewed and upheld that law, often referred to as “simple possession,” at least twice since then. It concluded both times that the Legislature intended to make any illegal drug possession a felony, regardless of the suspect’s knowledge or intent.

On Thursday, a majority of the justices decided that the “strict-liability” standard is unconstitutional. They said the harsh penalties and stigma that come with a felony conviction violate due-process guarantees in instances where the individual’s possession of the drugs sprang from unintentional or “innocent, passive conduct.”

“This is a huge ruling that is going to involve thousands and thousands of cases,” said Mark Middaugh, who represented the Washington Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers in a friend-of-the-court brief.

Middaugh believes the ruling can be applied retroactively, and that anyone convicted of simple possession of drugs will have a chance at having their conviction thrown out.

“This law has been applied in a racially discriminatory manner for years, and used as a fallback charge that has opened the door to other investigations,” he said.

The court’s decision had immediate effect: The Seattle Police Department announced Thursday that its officers would no longer detain or arrest people, or confiscate drugs, solely under the simple possession law.

The state’s prosecutors also see a significant impact but say the legalization of marijuana in Washington sharply cut the number of simple possession arrests and charges that are filed, either felonies or misdemeanors.

“The court correctly recognized the injustice of convicting people for innocent conduct,” said Richard Lechich, a staff attorney at the Washington Appellate Project who argued the case before the court. “While the decision cannot rectify the harm this law caused to so many communities, particularly communities of color, it at least puts an end to it.”

As a result of the court’s decision, Washington joins 49 other states and the federal government in recognizing that the unknowing possession of drugs is not a crime.

Philip James Buri, a Bellingham attorney who filed a brief on behalf of the Washington Association of Prosecuting Attorneys, said anyone who has been charged and is awaiting trial or convicted in the past year of simple possession could see their charges dropped or convictions reversed.

Whether the ruling will invalidate convictions going back even further remains to be seen, he said.

In past reviews, the state Supreme Court has never addressed the underlying constitutionality of the law, under which individuals who unwittingly found themselves in possession of illegal drugs could be convicted of a felony and sent to prison for up to five years.

The Legislature has also allowed the law to go unchanged, embracing prior Supreme Court decisions that the current court believes were wrong.

”Legislative acquiescence has locked our old interpretation [of the law] into that drug possession statute,” the majority wrote. “But that interpretation makes that statute criminalize innocent and passive possession, even by a defendant who does not know, and has no reason to know, that drugs lay hidden within something that they possess.”

”State legislatures have the police power to criminalize and punish much conduct,” but that power is limited by the due-process clauses of the state and federal constitutions, noted Justice Sheryl Gordon McCloud, writing for a five-member majority.

”Attaching the harsh penalties of felony conviction, lengthy imprisonment, stigma, and the many collateral consequences that accompany every felony drug conviction to entirely innocent and passive conduct exceeds the legislature’s powers,” McCloud wrote.

McCloud was joined by Justices Mary Yu, Raquel Montoya-Lewis, G. Helen Whitener and Chief Justice Steven Gonzalez.

In a dissent, Associate Chief Justice Charles Johnson argued that the state’s justices have long recognized that mere possession of illegal drugs is a crime, and that the issue of whether intent should be an element of the crime was a decision to be left to the Legislature. Johnson was joined by justices Susan Owens and Barbara Madsen.

Justice Debra Stephens concurred with the majority in throwing out the conviction of Blake and agreed that previous court decisions upholding strict-liability possession were off base. She argued, however, that the statute has an “implied” intent element that the majority has chosen to ignore. She declined to join the majority in finding the law unconstitutional.

The case involved the arrest of Blake on an unrelated theft charge in Spokane in 2016. After being taken into custody, police searched her and found a small bundle of methamphetamine in the coin pocket of her jeans, and charged her with felony drug possession under a law that was enacted in 1953.

Blake argued that the jeans had been bought secondhand by a friend who had given them to her just two days earlier. She offered a defense of “unwitting possession” during a bench trial, but it was rejected. The Court of Appeals upheld her conviction.

The majority joined McCloud in noting that Washington is the last state in the nation to enforce a statute “that continues to criminalize this innocent nonconduct.”

Ammon Bundy, who led the armed occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in 2016, stands in front of a restaurant in Emmett, Idaho, in late January.

Official logo for the 2021 Washington State Apple Blossom Festival

World photo/Don Seabrook Part of the Wenatchee High School band horn section practices inside enclosures in the school's auditorium Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2021.

State regions won't have to backtrack on COVID-19 reopening for now

OLYMPIA — None of the eight regions of Washington’s COVID-19 reopening plan will be going backward toward more restrictions any time soon, Gov. Jay Inslee announced Thursday.

In a news conference, Inslee announced a temporary pause to any region in his Healthy Washington plan returning to the first phase and tighter restrictions.

The announcement comes as COVID-19 infection numbers continue to decrease in Washington.

“We’re making this pause in recognition of the fact that we’ve made incredible progress in knocking down the infection rate of COVID in the last several weeks,” said Inslee.

The governor Thursday didn’t outline a third phase to the plan, which would set out even looser restrictions for commerce and social activities.

In the plan’s second phase — which is now in effect across the state — restaurants can resume indoor service at 25% capacity up until 11 p.m. Meanwhile, indoor fitness centers and entertainment venues — like museums, bowling alleys and concert halls — can also operate at 25% capacity. Establishments that only serve alcohol and no food, however, must remain closed.

At the beginning of this month, Inslee announced that some counties — which are sorted into the eight regions — could begin to loosen restrictions on those businesses, many of which were completely closed.

Other regions have since been allowed to loosen restrictions as virus activity dropped.

Republicans have continued to chafe at Inslee’s use of emergency power and restrictions that have been among the tightest in the country.

GOP lawmakers this week introduced their latest proposal at the Legislature to get the governor to accelerate the reopening of K-12 schools, which has been managed by local districts.

Under Senate Bill 5464 — which is unlikely to advance in the Democratic-controlled Legislature — schools could not shut down for in-person learning for more than 10 consecutive school days without approval by Inslee, the state secretary of health or a local health official.

Lack of Phase 3 in Gov. Jay Inslee's reopening plan has some community members worried

WENATCHEE — Gov. Jay Inslee announced this week that no region in the state would shift back into Phase 1 of the “Roadmap to Recovery” reopening plan.

But the governor has not outlined a third phase. And that has community members worried.

State Rep. Keith Goehner


State Rep. Keith Goehner, R-Dryden, asked his constituents in an email to consider the impact the shutdowns have had on the community.

“If you want citizens to buy into a plan, it is essential we have one in place, with an expectation of what is next so we can work toward that goal,” Goehner said.

Mike McKee

Mike McKee, owner of Mike’s Meats & Seafood Market in Pybus Public Market, said he envisions the next phase would allow restaurants at least 50% indoor capacity. McKee is also a co-founder of “Restore Washington,” a network that often strongly criticizes Inslee and that is focused around Washington tax issues.

“The numbers are plummeting, and there’s really no reason to keep these restaurants at 25%,” McKee said. “Most of them cannot survive or be profitable at 25%, so there’s huge concerns there.”

Marco Ramirez of Alma’s Kitchen said he was not surprised by the lack of a third reopening phase.

“[The governor] is very cautious and is very dependent on numbers to make his decisions,” Ramirez said. “It is what it is. We’re happy to be at least open.”

Shiloh Burgess

Wenatchee Valley Chamber of Commerce executive director

Shiloh Burgess, executive director at the Wenatchee Valley Chamber of Commerce, said in an email that the lack of a next phase is deeply concerning.

“We are at a critical tipping point and our region cannot continue in this manner,” Burgess said in the email. In 2020, “our region lost half of the jobs it took our community 10 years to create, and we risk those jobs being lost permanently if employers cannot plan and operate at a sustainably profitable level.”

Karina Vega-Villa

Karina Vega-Villa, co-founder of the Immigrant and Latinx Solidarity Group and MESA program director at Wenatchee Valley College, said that it is good to pause a little in order to figure out how the state will move ahead with reopening. Vega-Villa said it is important to support the community and especially community members struggling, but things need to be done carefully.

“It’s something that we cannot rush to get back to reopening if we are not taking into account the people that are most vulnerable. What would happen if we reopen and we don’t have a plan on how to respond if things don’t go as planned? I understand where (the business community is) coming from, but it’s important to keep in mind it’s a global pandemic.”