When Culture War Politics Consume School Boards, Basic Functions Suffer

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tags: education, culture war, public schools

Early in the November school board meeting, a few of the departing members made farewell remarks, talking of things that they believed still need addressing: more special education programs, mental health initiatives, a program for high school students to take college classes. There was a long list, but over the past two years other things had gotten in the way.

When the meeting opened up to public comments, there was an indication of what those other things might be. Parents and other residents took turns standing before the board, speaking about Zionism, Maoism, slavery, freedom, the Holocaust, critical race theory, the illegality of mask requirements, supposed Jewish ties to organized crime and the viral falsehood that transgender students were raping people in bathrooms.

“I fight here week after week,” one woman said, “to ensure that my children will never be subject to having their freedom taken from them.”

In the Central Bucks School District, a hot spot in the national school board wars just outside of Philadelphia, there is a striking disconnect between the crises that have consumed school board meetings for well more than a year and the emergencies that teachers, nurses, custodians, secretaries and other staff members say they are facing when they show up at school each morning.

Schools across the country are dealing with an array of urgent challenges this year, and Central Bucks, one of the largest and wealthiest districts in Pennsylvania, is no exception. In nearly two dozen interviews, school workers described shortages everywhere, from bus drivers to substitute teachers to support staff to milk. Nurses are overwhelmed with the demands of contact tracing from Covid-19 cases and paperwork for hundreds of requested exemptions from a school mask requirement.

Custodians, after more than a year of deep-cleaning classrooms, are now cleaning up broken sinks and disgusting messes after a spate of TikTok challenges, viral dares on social media that led to so much vandalism that nearly all of the bathrooms in some schools had to be closed.

And with the ranks of classroom support staff worryingly thin, everyone talks of an alarming crisis in student mental health, a concern already serious before the disruptions of Covid-19. Behavioral problems have mushroomed, there have been suicides and attempted suicides, and a huge share of students seem to have become disconnected, at a loss when asked to do things as simple as gather into groups.

Read entire article at New York Times