News & Blog - Ideas, ESI

The Importance of Civility & Respectful Discourse at School Board Meetings

By Bailie Moore, Manager

The past two years have been increasingly difficult for educators and school administrators. The pandemic brought a host of challenges with it for school districts, board members and teachers. Add in frustration of virtual learning, racial tensions, political unrest, conflicting messaging about masking vs. not masking, and you can see why tempers ran high and patience ran low.

School board meetings should focus on strategic planning for districts and the education of our children. In the last year, however, they have become the opposite. Regular headlines include reports of fights breaking out, disrespectful yelling and threatening, individuals being arrested for unruly behavior, and board members quitting because they fear for their own safety. This can’t be the new status quo. We must return to civility and respect at school board meetings for the success of our children, our schools, and our communities.

Civility is important for the success of our children.

As adults, we set the example. At some point in the pandemic, we lost the ability to have respectful discourse. We forgot how to put ourselves in the shoes of our neighbor and rarely attempted to understand their point of view. We forgot that it’s okay to disagree with another person’s opinion, while still being able to find common ground and a way forward. All parents want their children to become kind and productive members of society. But how can our children learn to be respectful when they see grown adults fighting, bullying, and threatening others – all of which are behaviors not tolerated at school? Collectively, we must reinforce that acting this way towards peers or adults is not okay and that all humans, regardless of their background, ethnicity, race or gender identity, should be treated with kindness and respect.

Civility is important for the success of our schools.

According to the National School Boards Association (NSBA), school boards establish the vision and goals for their school districts, speak on behalf of the community’s values, set standards for performance, and most importantly, ensure that education is the focus. Board members are there to serve the community, but this can’t be accomplished when regular meetings dissolve into chaos. Valuable time is wasted focusing on our differences instead of our common goals – one of which is our children and the importance of their education. Our schools can only continue to be successful when we allow our boards to focus on the issues at hand and collectively work towards meeting district goals. It’s important to note that this call for civility also applies to Board members, as they set the tone for these meetings. If the Board doesn’t demonstrate courtesy and respect, why should we expect better behavior from the community?

Civility is important for the success of our communities.

For our communities to be successful, we must have successful schools. The next generation – our elementary, middle school and high school-aged children – will be the leaders of our communities in the near future. If we cannot move education forward, what kind of leaders and citizens will make up our towns? What we teach them today will either hurt or help their success in school, their relationships, and eventually, their adult lives. We want our future communities to thrive.

Dave Raasch, former board member in Oconomowoc, Wisconsin sums it up perfectly.

“To me, it’s what kind of board, what kind of school do you want to represent your community? That’s the big picture to me. Do you want one that’s empathetic, collaborative, respectful, teamwork, listening, modeling the behaviors we want to instill in our children. Is that the kind of board and school district you want, or do you want the alternative? It’s not just about the mask or the campaign financing. What do you want for your kids? How do you want to prepare them for the future? What kind of future do you want to prepare them for?” he said.

Let’s get back to what matters most – the success of our children, our schools, and our communities.

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