A school board meeting is supposed to be a place where community members can come together in the best interest of local students. Instead, some see them as battlegrounds in a national culture war fueled by paranoia, and with no sense of civility or perspective.

Blinded by anger, conspiracy theories and flat-out lies, their presence at school board meetings not only makes it difficult for members to do their work, it often pushes them to make decisions out of fear of reprisal rather than the facts at hand.

And it’s no accident — it’s an organized effort to disrupt public schools as they do their best to teach children. And it’s not going away anytime soon.

That’s why it’s so important for Mainers to go to the ballot on Nov. 2 and elect school board members who are running for the right reasons, and who won’t be sidetracked by nonsense, no matter how obnoxious.

If the last few months is any indication, they’ll be tested. Across the country, threats, harassment and intimidation against school board members has spiked in the last year, mostly over mask and vaccine mandates, but also schools’ attempts to teach American history and address racial equity.

Maine hasn’t been spared. In Regional School Unit 16 in Poland, board members were compared to sexual predators and human traffickers for requiring masks. In Auburn, they were threatened with lawsuits and called abusers and war criminals. Just this week, according to the Sun Journal, a RSU 4 meeting in Sabattus was stopped after five minutes when an attendee refused to wear a mask, while others heckled the board chairman.

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“You can feel attacked and yelled at — it’s unlike anything I’ve ever seen. Ever seen,” Becky Fles, the school board chair for Gardiner-based SAD 11, and the president of the Maine School Boards Association, recently told MainePublic. 

Such pressure led several school boards this year to make masks optional. The choice went against the science and all common sense, but members clearly wanted to avoid a backlash from the loudest, most threatening voices in the room.

Most of these districts have now made masks mandatory, but only after the inevitable COVID outbreaks caused illness and missed school days for a lot of students and faculty.

These misguided folks will continue to show up at school board meetings, using threats, falsehoods and intimidation to get board members to bend to their demands. That’s the plan, anyway.

In Hampden, the Bangor Daily News reported, school board candidates are getting questions about critical race theory, a framework for analyzing racism in institutions and processes reserved for college and post-grad students.

They are doing so at the behest of a Maine group training people to fight against “K-12 indoctrination,” which itself is spurred on by a national right-wing effort to mislead and scare parents about what’s going on in their schools.

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The same happened in the North Yarmouth-Cumberland school district, SAD 51, where the rantings of one resident worked up over what he saw as “indoctrination” caused community-wide turmoil and disrupted the work of the school district.

With leadership, and the strong support of the community members who actually understood what was going in the schools, SAD 51 eventually worked through it.

Leadership like that is indispensable, and you better be sure your district has it when it needs it.

That starts with your votes on Nov. 2. Check out the candidates who are running locally, and make sure they have the best interests of local children in mind.

Make sure they are running to serve their community, not fight some imagined battle against educators.

 

 


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