Dear ASBA Members,
School boards are perhaps the oldest incarnation of elected governance in our state, dating to the days when local residents banded together to provide for the education of their children. They have served as a success story of local cooperation and partnership between government and the community for a common purpose since before statehood. Their members are our closest elected officials—in some cases quite literally our neighbors and friends. School board members are expected to engage with the community, listen to differing points of view, and make decisions that result in excellent outcomes for all students that the district serves. Over the past year, they have been faced with unimaginably difficult decisions and for that we owe these public servants our appreciation.
Sadly, in recent months, school boards have experienced an unprecedented level of harassment and threatening behavior, both online and in person. School boards operate under state laws, norms and protocols established to both allow the public to be heard and ensure orderly, productive public meetings. Organized disturbances at board meetings and failure by some members of the public to abide by these rules have led to meetings being cancelled or abruptly adjourned because of safety concerns for the board, staff and attendees. Increased police presence has been required in some instances. While it is understandable that emotions can run high when our children are involved, the type of behavior we have seen in recent weeks is a poor example to our students and cannot continue.
Individual members have reported feeling unsafe in their own homes, workplaces and even moving about in the community. Board members of color have shared with me instances of verbal attacks and threats of physical violence. No school board member in any community in this state or nation should ever feel that they are placing themselves or their families at risk by serving their communities. This must stop. Let me be clear—the content of public speech is not my concern. All members of the community are welcome to provide input on the decisions of the school board. However, it is unacceptable for anyone to disrupt a public meeting, provoke confrontation, harass, on the basis of race or otherwise, or threaten for any reason a public official.
We thank the elected leaders and other statewide organizations who have called for an end to these types of behavior. Like them, we believe harassment, threats and purposeful disruption cannot be accepted or tolerated as means to disagree. We must be the example for conducting ourselves appropriately while expressing opposing views. We cannot give in to the same animosity and vitriol that threatens to consume our national politics. Doing so will harm the civil society we seek to nurture and grow for our children.
Dr. Sheila Harrison-Williams,
ASBA Executive Director