A Nevada school board member said he had suicidal thoughts before quitting amid threats and harassment. In Virginia, a board member resigned over what she saw as political decisions on masks. The vitriol at board meetings in Wisconsin had a member worried about finding his flat tires.
School board members are largely unpaid volunteers, traditionally former educators and parents who come forward to shape school policy, choose a superintendent, and revise the budget. But a growing number of resignations or questioning of their willingness to serve, as meetings have turned into shouting contests between deeply political constituencies over how race issues are taught, masks in schools and vaccines COVID-19 and testing requirements.
In his letter of resignation from the Wisconsin-area school board, Rick Grothaus said his job had become “toxic and impossible to do.”
“When I started I knew it would be difficult,” Grothaus, a retired educator, said over the phone. “But I wasn’t ready or prepared for the vitriolic response that would occur, especially now that the pandemic seemed to bring everything out in a very, very harsh way. It made it impossible to really do meaningful work. “
He resigned on August 15 along with two other members, including Dan Raasch, who wondered if his car and windshield would be intact after the meetings.
National School Boards Association interim executive director Chip Slaven said there was no evidence of widespread departures, but he and several board members contacted by the Associated Press said the The charged political climate that infiltrated the national scene in their meetings made a difficult job even more difficult, if not impossible.
In Vail, Ariz., Speakers at a recent meeting took turns criticizing school board members over masks, vaccines and race talks in schools – even though the board had no ‘intention to act or even discuss these topics. “It’s my constitutional right to be as bad as I want with you guys,” one woman said.
The board moved after over an hour, only to be interrupted by more yelling. Board member Allison Pratt recalled thinking that if she wasn’t already a board member, she wouldn’t aspire to be.
“There’s starting to be an inherent mistrust of school boards, that we’re looking to indoctrinate kids or undermine parents or things like that, when we’re on the same team,” said Pratt, who served on the board for six years. “We are here to help the children.
Pratt said she strives to see the issues from the perspective of the most extreme members of the community, and has no intention of resigning. But she made her home more secure.
Police have been called to intervene in places like Vail, where parents protesting a mask warrant broke into a council chamber in April, and in Mesa County, Colo., Where Doug Levinson was among the members of the school board escorted to their cars by officers who had been unable to defuse a noisy meeting on August 17th. “Why am I doing this?” Levinson wondered.
Kurt Thigpen wrote on leaving the Washoe County, Nevada school board that he contemplated suicide amid incessant intimidation and threats led by people who did not live in the county, let alone who had children in schools. “I was constantly looking over my shoulder,” he wrote in July.
Susan Crenshaw resigned from the Craig County, Va., School board this month with more than a year in office after being “blinded,” she said, by her board’s decision to defy the Mask mandate of the state in a move that she said felt more politically motivated rather than educational.
“It’s something that comes into play against the excesses and the tyranny of government and other things that have absolutely nothing to do with raising children,” said Crenshaw, who has taught for 31 years and whose district has only 500 students. “It’s a bigger problem than the mask. I just feel like the mask is the spark or the trigger that started this dialogue.
While experts say the widespread use of masks can effectively limit the transmission of the virus in school buildings, opponents say they restrict children’s breathing and ability to read social cues. Disputes over the masks have put some boards of directors in Florida, Texas and Arizona at odds with their Republican governors.
In several states, struggling board members who do not resign face recall efforts. Ballotpedia lists 59 school board recall efforts compared to 147 board members in 2021.
Vail board chairman Jon Aitken is among them, targeted by critics who say students’ mental and physical health has declined due to restrictions linked to the pandemic. The Arizona board of directors has faced contentious issues in recent years, including the Red for Ed movement three years ago, when 50,000 people gathered at the State Capitol for increased funding education. But he said it’s different.
“It was a very real problem, with legitimate concerns on both sides,” Aitken said. Much of what is being said today is false or simply made up, he said.
Despite this, Slaven said many board members are more excited than ever because their work, amid a public health crisis, has taken on new significance.
“In fact, now you know what you do is important. The decisions you make as an elected official have ramifications, ”he said.
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