On Tuesday, May 9th, with minimal vetting and less than 2% of eligible voters casting a ballot, Delaware’s slate of school board members will be elected and granted the right to make decisions affecting students and families across the state. With the right smile, slogan, and signs a well-intentioned but eminently unqualified person could assume a precious seat on one of Delaware’s school boards. In one of Delaware’s largest and lowest-performing districts – Christina School District (my home district) – a mere 400 votes could give someone the ability to make decisions about how a few hundred million dollars of taxpayer money should be spent and 15,000+ students should be educated. Yet, so many of us know very little about these people and the work they do as school board members. But what we don’t know could hurt us.
I recently learned of comments on social media from a candidate for Christina School District school board –Jeffrey Day– that reminded me how little we really know of the philosophies and priorities of the people making (or aspiring to make) policy. In a post from last year where he shared a video of a teacher fighting with a student, Jeffrey stated, “sometimes kids need to have their ass beat.” He went on to say, “How do you deal with all these kids? They outnumber the teachers and they ‘rule’ over the schools.”
These comments are not just incredibly “trauma insensitive,” they also expose a mindset about certain types of kids in certain types of schools and how they should be handled. These comments paint the picture of schools (i.e urban schools) as prisons where the students are out of control and can only be subdued with force. And they are even more problematic for someone seeking to serve on the school board of a district with known discipline issues and that has been found in a federal investigation to be disciplining black students more harshly than white students.
To be fair to Jeff Day, when asked for a comment/context on this post, he said: “I may not have been as tactful in the moment as I should have been” and that “the message behind it is this, we as parents, and as a community must ensure before our kids are ‘grown up’ that this is not a world they can freely move through expressing every thought and opinion, and acting however they wish without facing consequences.” Unfortunately, his response does not allay my concerns. While he seems like a nice person– the type you’d want to protest the North Dakota Access Pipeline with — my bar is much higher when it comes to students and schools.
And it is the low bar for entry to such a critical role in Delaware’s education system and our lack of knowledge and engagement that is my bigger concern. Before electing someone to our school boards, we should want to know much more than whether they have a child in the school district or whether they are a product of schools in the district. It should take more than someone whispering sweet nothings stuffed with education buzzwords (e.g. trauma, whole child, opt out, socio-emotional learning, etc.) in our ears.
We should know how they think about students, schools, and learning before we let them make decisions about curriculum and instruction. We should know their executive, managerial, and financial experience before we let them make major personnel decisions and decisions about budgets. We should be more focused on assessing the local leaders that will impact our kids than so many were on the confirmation process for the US Secretary of Education.
The vetting process should be much more intense before we hand over the keys to taxpayer funds and students’ life outcomes. Because although serving on a school board is a volunteer role, it is not charity. And what we don’t know about school boards can really hurt us.
You can learn more about voting in Delaware’s school board election here