A Nevada school board member said he had thoughts of suicide before stepping down amid threats and harassment. In Virginia, a board member resigned over what she saw as politics driving decisions on masks. The vitriol at board meetings in Wisconsin had one member fearing he would find his tires slashed.
School board members are largely unpaid volunteers, traditionally former educators and parents who step forward to shape school policy, choose a Superintendent and review the budget. But a growing number are resigning or questioning their willingness to serve as meetings have devolved into shouting contests between deeply political constituencies over how racial issues are taught, masks in schools, and COVID-19 vaccines and testing requirements.
In his letter of resignation from Wisconsin’s Oconomowoc Area School Board, Rick Grothaus said its work had become “toxic and impossible to do.”
“When I got on, I knew it would be difficult,” Grothaus, a retired educator, said by phone. “But I wasn’t ready or prepared for the vitriolic response that would occur, especially now that the pandemic seemed to just bring everything out in a very, very harsh way. It made it impossible to really do any kind of meaningful work.”
He resigned Aug. 15 along with two other members, including Dan Raasch, who wondered if his car and windshield would be intact after meetings.
The National School Boards Association’s interim executive director, Chip Slaven, said there isn’t evidence of widespread departures, but he and several board members reached by The Associated Press said the charged political climate that has seeped from the national stage into their meetings has made a difficult job even more challenging, if not impossible.
In Vail, Arizona, speakers at a recent meeting took turns blasting school board members over masks, vaccines and discussions of race in schools — even though the board had no plans to act on, or even discuss, any of those topics. “It’s my constitutional right to be as mean as I want to you guys,” one woman said.
The board moved on after more than an hour, only to be interrupted by more shouting. Board member Allison Pratt recalled thinking that if she weren’t already on the board, she wouldn’t aspire to be.
“There is starting to be an inherent distrust for school boards, that there’s some notion that we are out to indoctrinate children or to undermine parents or things like that, when we are on the same team,” said Pratt, who has been on the board six years. “We are here to help children.”
Pratt said she strives to view issues from the perspective of even the most extreme members of the community, and she has no plans to resign. But she has stepped up security at her home.
Police have been called to intervene in places including Vail, where parents protesting a mask mandate pushed their way into a board room in April, and in Mesa County, Colorado, where Doug Levinson was among school board members escorted to their cars by officers who had been unable to de-escalate a raucous Aug. 17 meeting. “Why am I doing this?” Levinson asked himself.
Kurt Thigpen wrote in leaving the Washoe County, Nevada, school board that he considered suicide amid relentless bullying and threats led by people who didn’t live in the county, let alone have children in the schools. “I was constantly looking over my shoulder,” he wrote in July.
Susan Crenshaw resigned from the Craig County, Virginia, school board this month with more than a year left in her term after being “blindsided,” she said, by her board’s decision to defy the state’s mask mandate in a move that she said felt more driven by political than educational considerations.
“This is something that’s come into play against government overreach and tyranny and other things that have absolutely nothing to do with the education of children,” said Crenshaw, who taught for 31 years and whose district has just 500 students. “It’s a bigger issue than the mask. I just feel like the mask is the spark or trigger that got this dialogue started.”
While experts say the widespread use of masks can effectively limit virus transmission in school buildings, opponents say they restrict breathing and the ability of children to read social cues. Conflicts over masks have put some boards in Florida, Texas and Arizona at odds with their Republican governors.
In several states, embattled board members who do not resign are facing recall efforts. Ballotpedia lists 59 school board recall efforts against 147 board members in 2021.
Vail board President Jon Aitken is among them, targeted by critics who say the mental and physical health of students has declined under pandemic restrictions. The Arizona board has faced contentious issues in recent years, including the Red for Ed movement three years ago, when 50,000 people rallied at the state Capitol for increased education funding. But he said this is different.
“That was a very real issue, with legitimate concerns on both sides,” Aitken said. Much of what is said today, is false or simply made up, he said.
Even so, Slaven said many sitting board members are more enthusiastic than ever because their work, amid a public health crisis, has taken on new importance.
“You actually now know what you do is important. The decisions you make as an elected official have ramifications,” he said.
Republished with permission of The Associated Press.
August 29, 2021 at 3:03 pm
Republicans are in a pandemic of their own.
Of willful ignorance and stupidity.
August 29, 2021 at 3:40 pm
She’s missing teeth too.
September 2, 2021 at 7:49 pm
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August 29, 2021 at 3:25 pm
A one trick pony
Reverand Kurt Von Egot
August 29, 2021 at 5:39 pm
August 29, 2021 at 4:12 pm
Granted this was a national article, but it’s application to Florida is very apt.
As a father of two children under 12 and a small business owner with a front facing business, I am going to say I have stakes in both sides of this for my children.
I need my kids to be safe at school from this disease (and that looks like masks in schools based on the majority aggregate expert research) and I need the economy to stay open in a safe capacity to earn to support them (this should be common need for all of us).
If all of us are going to act like assholes and cannot find a common ground around our children by acting like adults, we have no future. On every post here, the commenters all are acting like it is black and white when 99% of life is grey.
How much of this is aversion is because of bias against “the other side” without looking at the problems and potential solutions objectively? A lot. Calling each other ignorant or derogatory terms is just poisoning the well. Nobody thinks about their thinking, especially when emotionally triggered (and politicians know and use this).
I think more than a people are over the vocal minority on each side and want compromise between our politicians.
August 29, 2021 at 5:41 pm
Well said, well written. Thanks.
August 29, 2021 at 4:15 pm
Serving on a school board helps people decide if they really have the chops to undertake the job of making public policy in the larger sense. One good side effect is this: now that they have endured this sometimes brutal process themselves, they will be much less inclined to brutally condemn other people serving in other jobs, whether they agree with them or not. They will wisely leave that spitting contest to “journalists” and people who lurk under blogs.
August 29, 2021 at 4:21 pm
I think that same logic is well applied to City Councils as well.
I agree with your sentiment on both parts – the potential ability to impart empathy when making judgements on others in similar positions and the fact I think there should be accountability for commenters of blogs (like news papers tried with requiring Facebook logins).
Kurt Von Egot
August 29, 2021 at 5:41 pm
You ass, too.
Kurt Von Egot
August 29, 2021 at 5:43 pm
You, Ron, not JD. You ass.
August 30, 2021 at 9:45 am
You not speak English first language?
August 30, 2021 at 5:30 am
It is not the first time in our democracy that officials have had to deal with hate and ignorance. Many many more are standing tough and protecting our common good. Thank you !
September 1, 2021 at 8:11 am
We need physical punishments for those sponsoring attacks on our liberties and Freedoms like mask mandates and vaccines mandates. Texas has a Great AG and have it right and laid the hammer down on the Marxists pushing mandatory masks in the Schools. The Governor just crushed the local hacks in San Antonio and now Texas is going to start Arresting them. I hope this is a model for Florida. Send the police in there and Physically punish them off to jail. They don’t have a right to parent or tell another adult to wear something on their face they don’t want to. This is America the Free, not America the muzzled.
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Carolyn N Clark
September 5, 2021 at 5:26 pm
To the woman who said she could be as mean as she wanted to: You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar . And while I agree with a lot of the protesters, I also believe in common courtesy to my fellow man You need to remember that that individual on the school board did not write the rules, he is just supposed to follow them. He may feel the same way you do but you will never know when you go in yelling and screaming and pointing fingers, You should try calmly discussing the things you are against and why. That is how changes and compromises come about. How do you think you would feel if someone treated you the same way? No matter how different we are we can always find something we agree on and go from there. THINK OF THE PROBLEM SOLVING SKILLS YOU ARE TEACHING YOUR CHILDREN. The meanest kid on the playground wins? I don’t think so and neither do the majority of the other parents. Check yourself before you wreck yourself
September 5, 2021 at 5:33 pm
Forget all the “science” for and against mask wearing. All you need do is to look at the behavior of the people demanding that you wear masks. Pelosi gets caught maskless in a hair salon then claims it was a “setup”. She’s then photographed at a Napa Valley party where she and ALMOST everyone else is not wearing masks. The ones wearing masks??? The lowly grunts serving dinner, of course!
Elizabeth Warren gets caught breaking the law in New Mexico while she was maskless attending a wedding ceremony.
The Obamas throw a massive birthday party at their Martha’s Vineyard mansion…apparently the elite are immune from the virus because they weren’t wearing masks.
The hypocrisy is overwhelming. Why would ANYBODY believe these two-faced liars? The “rules-for-thee-but-not-for-me” elites don’t deserve to be heard, much less obeyed.
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Ken Pereira, PhD
September 11, 2021 at 6:43 am
When you step into public office you accept the voice of the people as your guidance. If you were all knowing and didn’t need help and advice from time to time you would be truly in charge without question; and rightly so. However, all of us can use help and wise individuals invite feedback.
When I worked in industry as a senior manager, I cherished employees that had the stones to speak out to me. They kept me informed about issues that I would otherwise potentially not have known of. Many great ideas came from them.
I would encourage you to do more listening and less attending of pity parties. You will find that you do a much better job.
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