When the School Board must put students first [The Hub Debate]

Photo by: Anna C. Brandao

This is  a Hub Debate on the role of boards of education. For more background, read this.  Participate in the comments or submit a response for publication to UtahPoliticoHub@gmail.com. The question is: “Who do you think the board should serve?  Parents? Students? Why?

Many excellent posts here at The Hub over the past week trying to answer the question of who should matter most the school boards: parents or students.

One of my favorites was this, suggesting that it needn’t be a choice between the two.  The interests of parents and the importance of education for students shouldn’t be contradictory, and for parents truly focused on the best education for their child, there is much that can be accomplished at the board level that serves both parents and students directly.

But for some parents there is little common ground, and there are reasons.  Yeah, I’m about to make the argument that if the school board is your child’s enemy, the problem may be you, the parent.  School boards are flexible.  They have options.  They are most often sincerely interested in addressing concerns of and meeting the expectations of parents truly taking an interest in their child’s education.  When they are not, parents can organize quickly and effectively to right the ship.

What school boards can’t do is address your concerns about Agenda 21, Bill Gates’ secret plot to create COMMUNIST WORKER CAMPS, or President Obama’s agenda that Glenn Beck told you about (possibly personally, in a dream) to undermine American Exceptionalism.

One need look no further than the organized opposition to Common Core locally to draw a definitive example of how a useful education for a student, and a parent’s ‘quirky’ political opinions can create a difficult situation where a school board can’t meet the needs of a student and the preferences of a parent simultaneously.

A personal example.  Earlier this year I was invited to moderate a Common Core discussion in Cache Valley.  The panel consisted of two ‘for’ (one representative of the State School Board, one from the Office of Education), and two fairly well known opponents of Common Core.

Shortly after the panel wrapped, I was approached by a woman in the audience (who later ran for state school board, and was recently axed from the rec list, if you’re interested).  We had a friendly conversation in which she expressed frustration that there was no public comment period, and that she had driven a long way to make a speech.  I explained it wasn’t a public comment event, but rather a panel meant to shed light on Common Core, and concerns about Common Core.

pinkobuttonAt this point she (I am not exaggerating) stepped back two paces, and shouted at the top of her lungs that I wouldn’t let her speak because, and I quote, “You are nothing but a commie pinko!”  When she raised her voice, a Logan City police officer moved close to ask if there was a problem, and she screamed at him “What are you going to do, arrest me?  I have a right to free speech.”

Then she ran out of the auditorium.  Ran.

I tell this story not to mock the anti-Common Core crowd.  Even if they deserve it.  I tell this story to illustrate that there are parents who make it a choice between themselves and their child’s education by not focusing on education.  This screaming person had not driven a great distance to hear a discussion on Common Core.  She hadn’t come to be a part of what was a highly educational and illuminating event.  She had come to give a speech, and (I’d wager) warn everyone about the listening device Barack Obama had planted (personally) in her toilet tank.

Now transplant this parent from this incident to a local school board meeting, and you’ll see where I’m going.

Perhaps there’s room for such a debate.  Or debates over the very existence of the Department of Education.  Or the possibility that The Man is sneaking subliminal LIBRUL messages into the minds of Utah’s children via Bill Gates funded nano-technology in the red crayons.


But a school board can’t both create an environment focused on a well rounded education and opportunity for children who will try to prosper in an increasingly global and borderless economy for parents who are more interested in having these debates than they are the real issues students will face.

There is a reason we need compulsory education laws (sorry, Senator Osmond).  This may sound cynical, and it is.  But you can’t ignore that some parents, with the best of intentions even, drift from educational concerns into Glenn Beck radio topics.

Parents sincerely concerned about education can help to improve a school board or even a school district.  School boards and districts can help parents navigate and understand the education their child receives.  The two should have common goals, and when they do, there is no choice between the parent or the student needed.  Sometimes it is the board that wanders, sure.  But we must acknowledge that parents, too, can wander.  The anti-Common Core crowd is a great example of that wandering.  Impervious to factual information, infused with conspiracy, and super fun to poke fun at (for us Commie Pinkos, anyway).  But useless in a discussion about the importance of education as an opportunity and obligation to children, which is what a school board exists to consider.

In these situations, the school board has a duty to defer to the needs of the student.

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