School boards face overdue scrutiny as more parents get involved
Who should be held accountable for the hiring and abrupt firing of Equity Alliance Minnesota, whose outlandish racial equity survey put the Sartell school district in the media spotlight for all the wrong reasons? A St. Cloud Times conservative columnist put the onus on the school board’s chair and co-chair, calling on them to resign for ignoring district policy requiring parental consent for “surveys containing questions pertaining to a student’s or the student’s parents(s) or guardians’ personal beliefs or practices in sex, family life, morality, and religion.”
While the ISD 748 school board attempted to shift blame to EA-MN, this whole situation is a textbook example of incompetent board leadership from start to finish. No one questions the program was not born out of good intention. The overwhelming majority of Sartell residents want every student to have an equal opportunity to chase their dreams as far as they wish to go.
But, after a very recent and divisive operating referendum battle, spending $80k in federal COVID-19 funds was highly inappropriate. That money was intended to bridge the learning and financial gap caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, not pursue ideological priorities.
If any Sartell school board members take responsibility for the fiasco by resigning, they would join what the Star Tribune editorial board calls a record number of their peers who’ve stepped down this year.
According to MSBA [Minnesota School Boards Association] data, 12 to 15 of Minnesota’s 2,100 or so school board members typically step down each year before their terms are up. But as of July 30 this year, 52 had left their positions. Many of those departing said they had received more hostile in-person and online communication.
A year of widespread anger and anxiety over everything from COVID-related remote learning and mask-wearing to budget cuts, curriculum choices and boundary debates are driving some away from public service. Others are staying the course despite mounting pressures.
The paper rightly calls out those who fail to follow the rules for addressing board members, acting more like the leftist activists in recent years who’ve routinely shouted down participants in public meetings at the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board, Minneapolis and Duluth City Councils, Minnesota Public Utilities Commission and the University of Minnesota, among others. (Not to overlook the leftist intimidation that led to the cancellation of a recent American Experiment forum on the state’s proposed social standards at the first four proposed venues in Duluth.)
Yet overall, increased parental involvement in the schools represents a good thing, an important development that will bring more transparency and accountability to board members proposing controversial policies out of step with local values. The stealth implementation of Critical Race Theory and focus on racial equity drives much of the newfound opposition in Sartell and elsewhere.
At last Monday’s special meeting, only board member Amanda Byrd read a heartfelt statement in which she offered an apology to the community. The superintendent also included a general apology to Haylee. But beyond that, no other board member issued an apology for potentially misusing COVID funds, breaking their own policy, violating the clearly stated line between school/parent education, or neglecting to address Haylee’s concern.
The lack of empathy expressed should be a warning to the community that the majority of ISD 748 board members lack an understanding of why this story gained international attention. They violated, whether intentionally or through negligence, the sacred protection afforded to parents which forbid schools from passing judgment on morality taught in private homes. It was this breaking of trust which led to international media attention driven by parent’s concern about the education environment their children experience at school. Just because a parent is too busy to attend board meetings doesn’t mean they don’t passionately care or have an opinion.
Yet the Strib editorial board chooses to emphasize the messy side of local civic involvement, rather than the clear upside.
But board members in other districts in Minnesota say they’ve had standing room only meetings during which constituents have thrown civility and board rules out the window to shout about their concerns, sometimes on issues the boards don’t control.
The MSBA started collecting the information about early departures because it can be a budget problem for districts, spokesman Greg Abbott told an editorial writer. Under certain circumstances, districts must take on the unbudgeted expense of paying for a special election.
Abbott also worries that it will be detrimental to districts and communities if one-issue candidates run to replace board members who were better prepared to deal with a wider range of education issues.
Translation: The thing the school board association and paper are most worried about is that the “wrong” candidates might run for the position based on their knowledge of hot button issues. The fact that the growing interest in school boards might lead to greater diversity of members and range of opinion that results in stronger school policies evidently never occurred to them.