The School Board Wars

school board meeting with audience, speaker podium stage

I cannot remember a time where we saw school board members and community members having the kind of battles that we have seen in recent days. Most of these arguments are related to what schools should and should not impose in their health and safety plans. The arguments have become heated and sometimes violent.   

The impact of these fights has become prominent in the media and has promoted disunity in schools, in board meetings and in the community at large. This has been a huge frustration to school board members and to others who are concerned about the direction and example we are setting for our students.

In our local press we are seeing more and more articles that are not about issues but about how school board members are dealing with these intense conflicts. Here is an excerpt and the link from a recent local article:

The Central Bucks school board has had a particularly volatile time over the past year, not unlike other Bucks County boards. This summer, a supervisor was cited after hitting an anti-masking advocate on the head with a sign. Just last week, the school board made headlines again over a refusal to limit transphobic, antisemitic public comments.

“There are increasingly even debates about the way public comments work in the meetings,” Robertson said of the free speech commentary. “In a way, the fight has become about the fight itself.”

The episode began its coverage in summer 2020, examining school board meetings where some 70 parents would offer comments each meeting on reopening during the pandemic. Barbaro and Robertson then discussed subsequent parent statements on subjects including diversity and equity, vaccination, public health and freedom of speech. They also discussed lawsuits in the district.

“You’ve got these two camps, neither of which are new, suddenly fighting in this new space,” Robertson said of the division in Central Bucks.

Rear view of male giving speech with hand gesture to the audience on stage in illuminated auditorium hall

He struggles to parse what exactly made the school board meeting such a political hotbed, but points to private Facebook groups, anti-institution sentiment, and the investment in educational policy in Bucks County as some important factors.

“I think I understand enough to tell you that it’s a complete mess,” he told Barbaro.

Those interested can listen to part 1 of the episode here: The School Board Wars, Part 1

The School Board Wars are in the New York Times, Parts I and Part II.  It represents the reality that politics have so powerfully creeped into how our school boards are processing the issues of health and safety. It is alarming to hear some of the uncivilized comments as well as threats of violence. It is worth listening to as we recognize how volatile school board meetings have become. What is portrayed reflects disruptive and dissonant behavior that we would never tolerate from our students who are in the very schools we are setting policy for and fighting over.

I believe that in spite of our differences we should be able to rise above, to be better than this, to be examples as we set the course of safety for schools and model how our leaders process conflict. Our students are watching and will emulate how we handle these difficult issues in our day and in their schools.

Gerry Vassar


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