EDITORIAL: West York schools cuts public out

The Dispatch Editorial Board
West York Area Middle School

West York Area School District officials did all they could this past week to muzzle the public and dodge a potentially contentious debate about an armed guard walking the district's halls.

Following a pretext-laden debate this past week, Superintendent Todd Davies implored school board members to ditch standard parliamentary procedure and fast-track a resolution that will arm the district's security guard.

Some board members lamented that they hadn't even had time to read the draft policy prior to voting, and at least one member rightly noted that actions such as this only erode public confidence.

"My other concern is the community," said board member Jeanne Herman. "When we add things at the last minute, it does not allow the community to come and voice during public comment, and so I think that's a disservice then to the public that we represent."

And yet, after some twitching and squirming, Davies got his way by a 7-1 vote, with Herman dissenting.

The board could have opted to exist as something more than Davies' rubber stamp. It could had demanded the resolution head to a second reading, as is normal procedure. It could have publicized the matter and invited public input. 

Board members, though, had no interest in providing legitimate oversight, choosing instead to roll over for an unelected administrator. 

To be clear, ours is not an outright condemnation of the policy of armed guards in schools. The issue is one of substantial national debate as districts scramble to avoid playing host to the next national tragedy.

More:West York district arms security guard, fast-tracks approval

But there are reasonable questions regarding the merits of arming guards and stationing cops in schools, especially as data continues to show that minority students are disproportionately affected by increasingly severe punishments. And idealists have even argued the very presence of firearms in institutions tasked with elevating minds and civil debate actually undermine the very mission at schools.

Simply put, West York's decision was not — in a national context — an uncontroversial one. And local school districts do not exist outside of national debate. 

It very well might be that a majority of residents would have supported it. It might have enjoyed sweeping backing from parents and taxpayers willing to sacrifice a little more freedom for even the appearance of bolstered security.

But the actual support might never be known thanks to the school board's cynical dodge. It was a move that flouted the basic tenets of open, transparent government. And, in so doing, it assaulted the seriousness the matter deserved.

Put plainly, it was an intentional rush job designed to rob the public of input. It was an abuse of a parliamentary safety valve designed for real emergencies. It was a scheme crafted by those who had no patience for pushback or controversy. 

And in so doing, district officials gave the public one more reason to distrust the elected class.