Opinion: School board members caught in middle of return-to-school debate

By Nicole McKinney

The debate to return students to school in-person full-time continues to heat up, and not just school staff and students are struggling, public school board members are caught in the middle, experiencing a great deal of stress, trying to balance what’s best for everyone involved.

As elected officials, most school board members are not paid, and volunteer their time for the benefit of the community. Now is a challenging time to serve, as they are making difficult decisions on competing priorities, to protect teachers while also supporting the academic and emotional well-being of students, who seem to be falling behind after being out of school for nearly a year.

Parents are divided about what is best for their children, out of fear of contracting the virus, a need for consistency, and the individual needs of their own children.

Whatever decision board members make, it may appear as if they’ve taken sides, but it’s really not that simple!

So what is it really like to be a school board member now during a pandemic? It means trying to decipher county, state, and federal guidelines and medical data for which you have no prior experience or expertise. It also means an increased number of long meetings, endless emails from dissatisfied parents, time away from your own family, teachers who feel they are not valued, and more.

This has resulted in some area school board members quitting, school administrators resigning, and parents withdrawing their students from school.

Neighboring school districts (both public and private) are also competing for students based on their ability to provide in-person instruction.

It’s hardly a recipe for a good night’s sleep or peace of mind, and not your ordinary volunteer role!

So when should we expect things to return to normal? And just how will normal be defined moving forward for education? These are the important questions being asked, because the current status is not sustainable long-term.

Meanwhile, as the debate continues, I am reminded of one of my favorite quotes, “Character is who you are under pressure, not who you are when everything’s fine.” Now is the time to remain calm and demonstrate the leadership and character we want for our children; they are watching!

The actions we take now directly impact their futures – a future we hope will be fine again someday soon.

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