Editorial Roundup: School-related vitriol is getting worse in state

Published 8:50 pm Tuesday, November 9, 2021

Debate is expected, but harassment over policies has to stop.

At a September Eastern Carver County school board meeting, a fight broke out between two men who disagreed about whether students should wear masks. One was charged with assault.

During the same month, two Byron, Minn., school board members on opposite sides of the masking issue quit after facing a flood of public vitriol. Their superintendent, Michael Neubeck, said some community members have yelled insults at board members and their children, showing up at their homes and disrupting their workplaces.

And in Rochester, community members jeered school leaders last summer over a mask policy and anti-racism efforts. At that meeting, one man carried a rifle into the boardroom.

Nearly 70 Minnesota school board members resigned in 2021, about three times the resignations of a normal year, according the Minnesota School Boards Association. The organization attributes many of those early resignations to the stress caused by threats and harassment from constituents.

Similar scenarios are occurring in school districts across the country — so many that national school boards and superintendents groups issued a joint statement that said, “We oppose the increasingly aggressive tactics creeping into board and community meetings. We will never back down from the importance of freedom of speech, but we cannot — and will not — tolerate aggression, intimidation, threats and violence toward superintendents, board members and educators.”

We’d like to echo that message. Being passionate about issues affecting our children is fine. Having spirited discussions about school curriculum and policies is acceptable. But hurling insults and being verbally and physically threatening or violent is not. And it needs to stop.

What kind of lesson does screaming, harassing or bullying teach to our children? What example does that awful behavior set for students?

This isn’t the first time the Star Tribune Editorial Board has urged Minnesotans to reject this ugly, counterproductive trend. Nearly 20 months of anxiety and tension over multiple issues — everything from COVID-related mask policies and remote learning to school closings to budget cuts — are driving some talented Minnesotans away from public service. And the nasty, aggressive pushback from communities is preventing others from even considering stepping up to serve.

Whether they are teachers or school board directors, city council members or state legislators, elected officials should not have to be fearful of doing their jobs. It’s both revealing and disappointing that U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland had to defend an October memo condemning threats and violence after it became a target of congressional Republicans.

As Education Minnesota President Denise Specht rightly pointed out last week in a Star Tribune Opinion commentary, unruly citizens should remember that the educators they attack are “neighbors, the folks in the next booth at the coffee shop, the fans in the stands with you at the basketball game. We’re all part of the same communities.”


— Minneapolis Star Tribune, Nov. 1


About Editorial Roundup

Editorials from newspapers around the state of Minnesota.

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