April 11, 2022

Susan Spicka: Extremists undermine faith in our schools. We owe it to our kids, community to speak up

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Susan Spicka is the education policy director for Education Voters of PA. In this commentary for the Pennsylvania Capital-Star, she reminds us to make sure that the only voices being heard by school leaders are the folks on the extreme anti-public ed fringe.

For many of us, our local school districts are places that we appreciate, value, and depend on. We recognize that our schools are not perfect, but we are grateful for skilled teachers who have dedicated their professional careers to helping our children learn and grow.

We enjoy going to school concerts, art shows, track meets, football games, theater performances, and more. And many of us have logged a lot of hours at bake sales, concession stands, and countless other fundraisers to help increase resources for students.

After we made it through the worst of the COVID building closures–and that was really hard– seemingly out of nowhere, angry people began showing up at school board meetings.

They were screaming about masking and vaccines. They were attacking teachers and administrators. They were ranting about book banning, whitewashing history, and bizarre conspiracy theories. School board races turned into dog fights and the vitriol these people brought to board meetings spilled out into our communities through social media.

And this hasn’t stopped.

These extremists are just a tiny fraction of a percentage of the residents in any given community. Some of them aren’t even parents.

But when they are the only people speaking up at school board meetings or when they are elected school board members, they can do a lot of damage. They demoralize teachers and school staff. They can wear down board members. They can negatively influence policy decisions. And increasingly ugly and focused attacks on students in marginalized groups threaten very real harm to children.

In some communities, advocates are organizing themselves and pushing back against extremists. In other communities, people aren’t sure what to do. They have been staying out of these conversations hoping it will just go away and things will be OK.

But these extremists show no signs of ending their attacks on our local schools and teachers.

Read the full op-ed here.

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