A Port Angeles teacher issued a $125 citation for taking a group of international students into Olympic National Park while it was closed during the government shutdown says she plans to fight the charge.
“I plan to still go to court if I need to,” sixth-grade teacher Kelly Sanders tells KIRO Radio’s Dori Monson.
Jenny Durkan, the U.S. attorney for the Western District of Washington, reportedly refused requests that came to her Tuesday from Olympic Peninsula law authorities asking that the citation be dismissed.
“When they purposely decide to ignore the law (and the signs and the cones), there are consequences,” Durkan, wrote in her response to the Clallam County Sheriff, published in The Peninsula Daily News.
But Sanders tells Monson it wasn’t clear at the park gate that people were not allowed to enter.
“There was a barricade that was open. One lane was entirely open and a second set of cones had been moved aside, so there was room for a car to go through,” says Sanders. “There was one little sign that said national park is closed and these facilities are closed.”
“I didn’t see anything that said stay out or do not enter, so I just continued with the students,” says Sanders, who adds there were other cars in the parking lot, as well.
Had she known the park was closed and had the ranger approached them asking them to leave, Sanders says, of course she would have complied. She was shocked when she was ticketed.
“She asked for the driver’s licenses of all three vehicles in the parking lot at the time. We handed them over. I thought I would get a warning or she would tell us to leave, but she actually wrote tickets for all of us.”
If given the chance, Sanders thinks she can prove it wasn’t clear that traffic was not allowed in the park.
“I took pictures of the open barricade of the sign that didn’t say stay out, or even off limits, or anything. It just said these facilities are closed,” says Sanders. “If I have to go to court, at least I can make a case for not being aware that I shouldn’t be in the park.”
A big part of the reason she’s following through, contesting the citation, she says, is for her students.
“I will use every bit of it as a learning experience for my students. That is what teachers do. I’ll help them understand what happens when you break a law, even if you don’t know about the law, and how you have the right to present your case in court.”
Sanders says the group of students that was with her that day may have gotten the wrong impression about U.S. authorities.
“I thought it was sad that the international students had to see that because just the night before, there had been a welcome dinner for all the new international students at Peninsula College and the chief of police had spoken to the students. He told them police officers here in our country are safe, they’re here to help you, you can always go up to one and ask for help,” says Sanders. “Then the next day, to get a ticket from a ranger, I was like oh well, woops.”
The ranger was very respectful, Sanders says. But she thinks it likely appeared a contradiction for students who’d just heard such a glowing review of U.S. authorities.
In light of all that’s been impacted by the shutdown, Sanders knows her story is pretty insignificant.
“Everyone is being affected in such huge ways by the government shutdown. For me to get a ticket, I consider that kind of a small thing, just an inconvenience.”
The main reason she went public with her story, contacting The Peninsula Daily News, she says was just so that others wouldn’t unwittingly find themselves in the same position.
“I thought it would be helpful for people to know they actually can’t enter the park, even though it’s not clearly stated,” says Sanders. “It was such a surprise to me, that I wanted to get the word out to people.”