School’s back in session for the second time during the COVID-19 pandemic, and while the situation has changed slightly (many adults and older children are vaccinated and few schools are opening remotely this year) there is still plenty of fighting over pandemic-related issues.
Masks, vaccinations and the Delta variant of the disease are contentious issues around the country, and in some cases, have already sparked violence. So what should school leaders do to minimize risk as the school year starts?
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Fights over the mask mandate are turning violent
Normally, when we talk about bullying in schools, we’re concerned about students. In this case, we’re more concerned about parents and other adults. As schools are opening, some schools will have mask mandates and others will not, and there will be polarization among parents.
Several cases of violence have already broken out over masking in schools already. In Texas a parent ripped a teacher’s face mask off. In California, a parent attempted to assault a principal over masking, and put the teacher who intervened in the hospital.
It’s important for school leaders to be aware of the threat of violence and polarization, and to plan accordingly to safeguard both students and employees. This can take the form of ensuring that police officers are present at every school and using other security measures, such as cameras, call boxes, and restricted access to school buildings.
School officials will also have to keep an eye on more traditional bullying; kids will be divided because of their parents’ political views, something that may increase violence and decrease some kids’ participation in academics and sports as families pull away from school districts they don’t feel they agree with.
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Possible problems at school board meetings
Outspoken members of the community have always been a fixture at school board meetings, but in the current political climate, the public comments have the potential to become dangerous, attracting anyone from angry parents to active shooters.
In Nevada and Pennsylvania, board of education meetings turned into arguments so aggressive that police were called in, while a Utah school board meeting was disrupted by protesters who are now facing charges.The board needs to be prepared for the anger of the public and should request a police presence at every meeting, not just to report on school safety but also for security purposes.
It’s also important for the board to take threats seriously. While public commenters can sometimes make outrageous claims or threats, all threats — no matter how crazy they may seem — should be taken seriously and reported to law enforcement.
Concentrate on the good of the students, no matter your opinion
Right now we are living in controversial times. That means it can’t be business as usual as schools reopen their doors. When you’re living in times like these, both the probability and the severity of foreseeable risks rise. There will be arguments, there will be violence and there will be other problems.
Despite this, we need to find a way to be civil to one another.
How can school leaders foster an atmosphere of civility? Focus on what brings everyone in the school community together: the kids. No matter their position on masks, every stakeholder in a school wants the best education and the most secure environment for the children. The students are the reason teachers and staff go to work each day, and the kids are the reason parents are protesting. By focusing on the education and safety of the students, I guarantee the things you agree on outweigh the things you disagree on.
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