I had the opportunity of covering the “education beat” for many years as a journalist decades ago. Public school board meetings tended to be long and technical, which is another way of saying they were often boring. Public interest was often low and only a small number of parents and teachers attended.
Fast forward to today and many school board meetings are far from boring. They are often filled with angry parents and frustrated board members. Parents are upset about how schools are treating their children. Board members want parents to cooperate with school system decisions. What happened?
[Note: I wrote this article a year ago at the height of the challenges parents were facing with school boards across the country. One year later, parents continue with the same challenges. One example is the San Diego, California school system. The president of the San Diego school board recently told parents via a radio interview — “Those unhappy with the policy ‘can opt not to return to the regular school but to go to the school where they don’t have to go to school at all, other than via Zoom,’ she said.”]
Board Not Bored
Parents have played an important role in the administration of public schools for a long time. I sat quietly in school board meetings beginning in the 1960s and listened as parents came before the board to present their thoughts on a variety of topics concerning their children’s education. The conduct of parents and board members was almost always cordial and professional. It was rare to witness an outburst of any kind from parents.
During the years I covered school boards, the time parents had to speak before the board slowly declined from ten minutes to three minutes. The explanation was that the boards wanted to streamline meetings to keep them shorter and allow for participation from more parents. Some parents were okay with the shorter time to speak while others said three minutes was not enough time to share their thoughts. Three minutes would probably sound great to parents today who often have only one minute to speak to board members. What changed? Let’s look at the history of schools and school boards.
School Board History
The first public school in America was established in Boston in 1635. The Boston Latin School is still in operation today. The English Puritans who had settled Boston five years earlier, believed that children needed to be able to read and understand the Bible and be literate for purposes of success of the colony. That gave rise to the earliest public schools. Two years later (1637), the Massachusetts Bay Colony mandated that every town have a public school. Committees oversaw the governance of the public schools and became a model of what would eventually become public school boards.
The National School Boards Association (NSBA) was founded in 1940 to represent public school governance. The NSBA’s stated position was to foster excellence and equity in public elementary and secondary eduction through school board leadership.
We believe that public education is a civil right necessary to the dignity and freedom of the American people and that each child deserves equitable access to an education that maximizes their individual potential.
In pursuit of these beliefs, NSBA and our members will continue to lead the national conversation about public education, advocate for public policies that ensure each student everywhere has access to an excellent public education where they live, create a better understanding of the importance of school boards and the benefits of local governance, and enhance the effectiveness of school boards. National School Boards Association
While that may look good on paper, what has been happening the last few years looks different. You may remember this notice from the NSBA a year ago:
In a letter to President Biden released this morning, the National School Boards Association (NSBA) has asked for federal assistance to stop threats and acts of violence against public schoolchildren, public school board members, and other public school district officials and educators.
‘America’s public schools and its education leaders are under an immediate threat,’ reads the letter signed by NSBA President Viola M. Garcia and NSBA interim Executive Director and CEO Chip Slaven. ‘The National School Boards Association respectfully asks for federal law enforcement and other assistance to deal with the growing number of threats of violence and acts of intimidation occurring across the nation.’
The letter asks the federal government to ‘investigate, intercept, and prevent the current threats and acts of violence against public school officials through existing statutes, executive authority, interagency and intergovernmental task forces, and other extraordinary measures to ensure the safety of our children and educators, to protect interstate commerce, and to preserve public school infrastructure and campuses.’ NSBA.org
President Biden informed United States Attorney General Merrick Garland who then sent a memo to the Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Executive Office of U.S. Attorneys:
In recent months, there has been a disturbing spike in harassment, intimidation, and threats of violence against school administrators, board members, teachers, and staff who participate in the vital work of running our nation’s public schools. While spirited debate about policy matters is protected under our Constitution, that protection does not extend to threats of violence or efforts to intimidate individuals based on their views.
To this end, I am directing the Federal Bureau of Investigation, working with each United States Attorney, to convene meetings with federal, state, local, Tribal, and territorial leaders in each federal judicial district within 30 days of the issuance of this memorandum. These meetings will facilitate the discussion of strategies for addressing threats against school administrators, board members, teachers, and staff, and will open dedicated lines of communication for threat reporting, assessment, and response. Office of the Attorney General
Parents who shared their concerns with school board members were quickly labeled as “domestic terrorists” by many in government and the media. Parents speaking at school board meetings are a ‘threat’ to public school officials? Domestic terrorists? What did they say or do that led to that type of response by the NSBA and the Attorney General?
Parents were (and still are) concerned about what’s happening in public schools. Many parents became aware of what their children were learning in public schools during remote-learning sessions during the Covid-19 Pandemic beginning in 2020. The parents began expressing their concerns to school boards, but believed school board members were ignoring their concerns. That led to parents speaking emotionally at board meetings and protesting in and near public schools. Those protests eventually led the NSBA to send a letter to President Biden which led AG Merrick Garland to send a memo to the FBI and U.S. Attorneys Office to get involved investigating reports of harassment, intimidation and threats from parents.
My purpose as a journalist is to hear all sides of an issue. I may have my own opinion about something, but it’s the job of professional journalists to put their personal views aside and cover a story fairly and accurately. Unfortunately, I saw little fairness and accuracy from the national news media during the school board arguments. Local broadcast and newspaper journalists did a better job in some cases, but many viewers, listeners, and readers only saw the way the national media covered the story. It made parents look pretty bad.
So, what were/are the parents’ concerns? What were/are school board member concerns? How should parents and school members respond to each other? Is there a way forward? I think there is and Christians may be the best people to help the process.
What’s Best For The Children
Parents and school board members claim to be doing what’s best for children, so why the antagonism between them? That’s a good question that should be asked and answered from both groups. Why are parents so upset? Why do board members believe they are being threatened and harrassed? It seems that some parents and school board members disagree about what’s best for the children attending public schools.
Many parents say they were outraged when they found out what their children were learning in public schools. Parents mentioned, among other things the teaching of Critical Race Theory (CRT), LBGTQ+ issues, Transgender ideology, Transgender boys allowed in girls’ bathrooms and locker rooms, Transgender boys competing in girls’ sports, sexually explicit curriculum and library books, restricting public access to public board meetings, limiting public comment, and a general lack of transparency by school board members, administrators and staff. That’s in addition to concerns about masking and vaccination mandates for children and teachers.
School board members often take a different view of the things that concern parents with children in public schools. Board members often believe they and the professional educators in the schools are better equipped to make decisions about the education of children. Is that true? Do educators know better than parents about what children should learn in school?
Some parents who disagree with school board decisions take their children out of public schools and either enroll them in private schools or homeschool their children. However, many parents don’t want to do that or are not able to do that. So, what’s a parent to do if they want to keep their children enrolled in public school but disagree with what their children are learning and experiencing in public school? We’ll look at some options for Christian parents in the next part of our series – The War On Children: A Christian Response.
Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
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