School board shouting matches are latest indictors that American civility in death spiral

York Dispatch editorial board
FILE - In this Aug. 12, 2021, file photo, protesters against a COVID-19 mandate gesture as they are escorted out of the Clark County School Board meeting at the Clark County Government Center, in Las Vegas. A growing number of school board members across the U.S. are resigning or questioning their willingness to serve as meetings have devolved into shouting contests over contentious issues including masks in schools. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal via AP, File)
  • School board meetings recently have often devolved into shouting matches.
  • One local board member reminded a boisterous audience that "this isn't a sporting event."
  • Board members across America have had to deal with bullying and threats.

Civility seems to be dying a slow death in America.

Anyone who has watched a school board meeting over the past couple of months can probably attest to that fact.

Folks who get paid little or no money have been forced to sit behind tables and listen to their neighbors berate them with a level of vitriol that was previously reserved for society’s worst criminals.

All because they were discussing how racial issues are taught, whether masks should be mandated in schools or COVID-19 vaccines and testing requirements.

Hostile school board meetings spur members to quit

A recent report from the Associated Press told the story of a Nevada school board member who had thoughts of suicide before stepping down amid threats and harassment, while in Wisconsin, the nastiness at board meetings had one member fearing he would find his tires slashed.

York County not immune: Sadly, York County is not immune to such angry outbursts.

'This isn't a sporting event': Tempers flare over Southern York schools' mask mandate

Tempers flared at a recent Southern York County School District meeting on a possible mask mandate. The cheering, booing and shouting got so bad that one board member had to remind the audience members that "this isn't a sporting event.”

Tensions were also high recently when the York Suburban School District talked about a mask mandate.

York County school district reinstates mask mandate for upcoming year

Both Southern and Suburban eventually approved some form of mask mandate.

How silly and ugly has this gotten?

Well, back in July, dozens of people testified against mask mandates at six local school board meetings despite none of the districts proposing a mandate at the time.

The right to be 'mean:' In one particularly outrageous incident in Arizona, a woman told school board members that “it’s my constitutional right to be as mean as I want to you guys.”

Well, she may have the constitutional right to be “mean,” but that doesn’t make it right. Far from it.

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Given that backdrop of bullying and threats, it’s not surprising that the Associated Press story found that a growing number of school board members are resigning or questioning their willingness to serve as meetings have devolved into shouting matches.

One school board member said the harsh rhetoric “made it impossible to really do any kind of meaningful work.”

Everyone involved in these school board debates would do well to follow the advice of Desmond Tutu, who once said: “Don’t raise your voice, improve your argument.”

Talking points overshadow reason: Unfortunately, making restrained, but solid, fact-based arguments can be difficult and time-consuming. It’s much easier to shout down the opposition with the latest talking points that you heard from your favorite cable news personality.

School board meetings used to be deadly-dull affairs that focused on taxes, budget reviews, curriculum and school policy.

How we long for those days now.

Recently, they’ve too often become hostile, partisan and just plain nasty.

It’s bad enough that our national politicians participate in such behavior. Does it have to infect our local politics?

More and more, the answer seems yes.

And more and more, civility continues it slow death spiral.