What image comes to mind when you think of public school board meetings? Before 2020, the image was probably of boring, dry, meetings with no attendees where the elected board members discuss benign curriculum and staffing issues. But post 2020, your image is likely of angry “mobs” of parents screaming and supposedly threatening school board members over school closures, quarantines, vaccine mandates, and masks. The media has done a brilliant job of depicting parents as unhinged bullies or “domestic terrorists,” as the National School Boards Association (NSBA) said in a letter to the Biden Administration.
But what the media failed to mention are the preceding months and years of polite, evidence-based emails from parents to school board members and administrators that were completely ignored. They never mention the numerous calm and rational speeches given by parents that were met with silence or a canned “thank you for your comments.” They don’t mention the multiple phone calls not returned.
For two years, parents like myself, sent dozens of studies and data from all over the world showing that schools were safe to open and that masks don’t stop transmission of respiratory viruses, along with personal stories of our children plunging deeper into a mental health crisis and falling behind academically with each passing day. Personally, I sent almost 40 emails and I received a canned reply to only two.
The bottom line and unimaginable reality for parents all over this country is that these elected board members and school administrators just don’t care what we have to say and are not even willing to engage in conversation with us. They don’t care about data or science and they certainly don’t care about our children. If there is another explanation, we have begged them to give it to us. What has become abundantly clear during this pandemic is that public schools do not view parents or even the students as their customer.
When your customer is a government bureaucracy or teacher’s union instead of the children you purport to serve, those children will never be a priority. Yes, some children might survive and some might even thrive. But many won’t. The deck is stacked against them in ways that are impossible to overcome. These bureaucracies callously looked the other way as student suicide attempts increased dramatically. They looked the other way when parents told them about elementary-aged kids with suicidal ideation. They looked the other way as parents told them that their children were developing debilitating eating disorders. They looked the other way as absentee rates skyrocketed and test scores plunged. They just didn’t care.
Parents and students were powerless against this very powerful machine. That’s when everything changed for the school choice movement. Parents realized that the only way to fix education in this country is to allow families to choose the school(s) that best meet the needs of their children. Parents of public school children currently have no leverage to hold schools accountable, as we have seen over the past two years. We begged and pleaded for our districts to put kids first, only to be called racists, bullies and domestic terrorists. There is no way to repair this relationship or to even make it productive going forward, and in reality, most public schools aren’t even trying to do so. Instead of heartfelt apologies, they continue to threaten students with more Covid restrictions. They continue to pretend that kids are resilient and everything is fine, despite all the data suggesting otherwise. To hide the learning loss experienced by millions of kids, many districts are lowering grading standards, eliminating advanced classes, and looking the other way at the rise in behavioral issues. None of this is actually helping our children succeed. It is window dressing designed to hide the very real failures of our public school system.
Public schools desperately need competition and students need schools that will put their needs first. They need schools that understand parents are in the best position to know what their children need to thrive. And since money seems to be a driving factor here, we need schools that know we have the option to take our dollars elsewhere if a school isn’t meeting the needs of our children. It’s time to put parents and students back in the driver’s seat.
Education in this country is hanging by a thread for far too many students, and disproportionately for minority and poor students. We are taking away the last frayed opportunity for these kids to escape poverty, drugs and crime. As a society, we must do better. We can put ALL kids first by giving them the same opportunity for a quality education that affluent kids have always had. If we are a country that truly believes in equity, we must fund students instead of systems. We must have school choice. It’s the only chance we have to save education in this country.