Parents: Guardians of Their Communities

Parents: Guardians of Their Communities

2021 | Week of August 23 | Radio Transcript #1426

I well remember the years in the early 2000s when I served two terms on the Watertown Unified School District Board of Education. Rarely did parents show up for school board regular meetings, let alone school board committee meetings. Only twice in over five years, do I recall significant number of parents at a regular school board meeting. Once was when we were deciding on closing one of the district’s outlying elementary schools, and the other involved an issue with the high school cheerleaders—and it wasn’t an ethical or moral matter.

But when we were making decisions impacting all 3500 students and 500 employees and certainly the taxpayers and business owners in our district as we determined curriculum, course of study, graduation requirements, testing policies and schedules, and even passed multimillion dollar annual budgets, most unfortunately, we rarely saw or heard from parents or other concerned citizens. That was then.

This is now—and schools and school districts aren’t like they were even 15 years ago. And parents aren’t happy with what is happening.

It began last year in March when schools went virtual during COVID. Suddenly, many parents learned what was happening in their children’s schools. They also learned more about school-supplied and sanctioned online resources their children have access to.

Then a year ago as school was about to start, we encountered the full-blown in-person versus virtual controversy. Most parents had strong opinions one way or the other and began to share those with each other and with their school boards. A corollary to this issue, is the mask matter and the related decisions school districts have made and are again making.

As parents found their voices on these COVID-related issues, they discovered that many school districts were including elements of Critical Race Theory in their curriculum and instructional materials, and some have even found as they explored online resources provided by the schools for their kids, inappropriate books and other materials. On the Critical Race Theory issue, parents have been repeatedly met with denial, resistance, and little to no transparency when they have asked, often by open-records requests, for information about what is being taught.

On all these points, parents have been and are challenging school boards. For many, this has been a pretty steep learning curve, figuring out how to deal with elected school boards and hired administrations. I’ve been more than impressed, however, with the speed these parents have organized and with what they have accomplished in a short period of time.

In some instances, they have succeeded in flipping school boards from liberal to conservative in this last spring’s election. In others, they have seen administrators and board members resign as the parental and community pressure, supported by evidence, has mounted; and in still others organized citizens are attempting recalls of school board members. In one district, parents are suing the school district for making inappropriate books available online for elementary students.

What’s most instructive in all of this is really what we call the multiplied power of one. In most instances, it was one parent who became concerned and educated himself or herself on what was going on and then started sharing the information with others who in turn engaged more parents and citizens. The result has been, and continues to be in so many districts, numbers and demands school officials simply can’t ignore.

Engaging in local government is one of the most effective actions citizens can take. Unlike federal-level or even state-level issues, a relatively few citizens can make an enormous difference with school boards, city councils, town or village boards, or county boards.

This reality is why earlier this year we did fifteen community events around the state featuring a presentation we called “Time To Roll Up Our Sleeves—Becoming Guardians of Our Communities.” And this reality is why this fall we are doing four practical, hands-on “going local” training sessions as follow-ups to these events to help reduce the learning curve and to encourage more citizens to become local difference-makers. What we know is if we don’t become guardians of our communities, someone else will, and in all likelihood, we won’t be happy with the results.

This is Julaine Appling for Wisconsin Family Council reminding you the prophet Hosea said, “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge.”

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