It's time for school boards to focus on what matters: Educating our kids

YORK DISPATCH EDITORIAL BOARD

We all know the feeling.

You get sucked into one task and, presto change-o, you look up only to realize something else has fallen into disarray.

For most of us, these kinds of routine distractions mean sacrificing diet, sleep or time spent with family.

Central York's school board fell into this trap in recent years.

Unfortunately, the responsibility that fell off the back of their apple cart was pretty essential to the job we entrusted them with: Safeguarding and promoting the education of nearly 6,000 young people.

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The district had always been more conservative leaning but, in recent years, a cohort of far-right ideologues joined the board. That's all well and good; civic life flourishes when a diversity of viewpoints are represented.

But these culture warriors left the real work of overseeing the schools — updating curriculum, for example — largely undone as they debated the merits of diversity and masking.

"It makes me crazy that an elementary math program has become a political issue," said Mike Wagner, a moderate Republican who left the school board this year.

We agree.

And that's not all: Some of these board members actively undermined the efforts of colleagues who were trying to improve the situation.

Lauri Brady, who's written curriculum for Central York for 25 years, recounted her own frustrations. At one point earlier this year, she recalled, staff prepared packets of material for every board member about a proposed math curriculum.

Only one member bothered to pick it up.

In 2020, amid a protracted debate over a list of diverse teaching materials, the board opted to table revised curriculum in several key subject areas.

“I believe there is wisdom in this waiting,” then-board member Veronica Gemma said at that meeting.

What was the wisdom, exactly?

Perhaps we'll never know.

Central High School senior Edha Gupta holds a sign while posing for a photo outside the Central York School District Administration offices before a school board meeting there Monday, Sept. 13, 2021. The rally was in opposition to a banned resource list instituted by the district, which demonstrators say targets minority authors. Gupta organized student protests at the school the week prior to the meeting. Bill Kalina photo

The board never revisited the matter, at least not in any concerted way, and Gemma lost reelection this November. She's repeatedly declined or ignored The York Dispatch's requests for comment.

Measuring the impact of all these failures is an exercise in futility. It's impossible to draw a straight line between the board's inaction and the missed opportunities these students experienced.

Central York's math scores in the Keystone Exams dropped by about 6% between 2018 and 2019 alone. But the latest testing results aren't available yet — you can thank COVID-19 for that — and, even if they were, these students' lives were already facing upheavals unrelated to the recalcitrant board.

But the students themselves notice.

Students have shared anecdotes about having to advance their own STEM education or to teach themselves about African-American history, for example.

“I don’t want to hear about my people in chains and then skip straight to the civil rights movement and then Obama’s presidency,” said Unique Fields, a recent Central York grad.

There are some good signs.

The most recent election brought a new cohort of board members who've pledged to refocus their attention where it matters. Two of those incoming members, Republican Wendy Crane and Democrat Rebecca Riek, joined a reconstituted curriculum committee.

We encourage Central York to work diligently to ensure that the five curriculum pilots that the previous board abandoned are deliberated with the seriousness they deserve.

The time for playing politics is over.

It's time to educate our kids.