Months after issuing a letter that called on President Biden to use federal agencies to stop “threats and acts of violence” at school board meetings, the National School Boards Association (NSBA) is walking it back. It’s the latest update in a debacle that has been brewing since the letter’s publication last month, in which the NSBA likened the recent behavior of parent activists to “domestic terrorism.” Since then, over a dozen state board associations have taken steps to distance themselves from the organization.
The NSBA has even issued an apology this week, saying “there was no justification for some of the language included in the letter.” But despite their disavowal, the damage is done, and I’m worried that this language could end up driving an even deeper wedge of distrust between families and schools.
For Some Parents, That Trust May Be Broken
It couldn’t have come at a worse time. Parent satisfaction was already waning last fall as learning moved online due to the pandemic. But despite most students being back in a physical classroom this school year, disagreements about everything from remote learning to mask requirements to vaccine mandates remain—as evident in school board meetings across the country.
The consequences of these debates have been indisputable. More parents are exploring their options, and traditional public school enrollment is dropping. Charter schools have seen historic growth in the last year. Homeschooling rates have more than doubled. For some, it’s a sign that the trust between parents and traditional school systems has been broken. Thanks to the NSBA, perhaps irrevocably.
It’s the principle of the thing. While the letter may have been aimed at far-right protesters spurning mask and vaccine mandates and critical race theory in schools, there’s been a growing movement of outspoken parents from across the political spectrum demanding better educational outcomes for years. And the “some parents are domestic terrorists” messaging doesn’t exactly inspire trust between them and their local school boards.
It’s why 18 state school board associations are correct to distance themselves from the NSBA. In fact, it should really force all education leaders to reflect more deeply about how, if at all, we can work to restore the love lost.
This Work Is Built On Mutual Respect. So How Do We Get It Back?
Just as physicians must take the Hippocratic Oath before they can practice medicine, educators and school leaders make a silent vow every day we show up: that we will, to the best of our ability, ensure that all students are educated and cared for as if they were our own children. But because teaching and learning is a cultural affair, that vow must extend to our students’ families as well. We can never hope to engage families if we’ve failed to establish trust and mutual respect first.
As long as the pandemic continues to impact schools, it’s likely that the disagreements and disarray will continue. However, those of us in education can’t sit on our hands and wait for time to heal the wounds. The NSBA showed us that our words matter, but if we can empower parents and give them the seats at the table they deserve, our actions will end up mattering even more.