Guest columnist Carol Sharick: ‘All in this together’ — Don’t tear down School Committee

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Published: 9/27/2023 5:46:26 PM
Modified: 9/27/2023 5:45:38 PM

If you pay attention to national politics, you’re aware that one of the Republicans’ top agenda items is to decimate our K-12 public schools. The GOP promotes school choice with the goal of having taxpayer money support private education, so they can take their kids out of the public schools, and weaken the public schools financially in the process.

Maybe they are anti-union, or anti-regulation, or anti-sex education or they disagree with desegregation. Maybe they don’t want kids to learn the history of African Americans in this country, or they don’t want children to learn that identifying as LGBTQ is OK. Maybe it’s all of those issues, and they use them to stoke fear in their voters. Because if you keep people afraid, you can control them.

One way the GOP has been attacking public schools recently is through school boards. Not only do they harass and slander school board members during public meetings, but they have made a concerted effort to fill school boards with conservative members, whose main agenda is to change the curriculum, weaken the unions, and conservatize what students are learning. They are trying to control what can be taught, and to reinforce the white Christian status quo.

Amherst, over the years, has made national news for its outright lefty liberalism. And yet we find ourselves in a situation where some reportedly conservative Christian counselors allegedly mistreated trans students, and the problem was not addressed, and possibly exacerbated, by administrators. If we believe the excellent reporting by the student journalists who brought this to light, these counselors were clearly and outwardly anti-trans, and religious. Neither of those advocacies gel with public schooling.

And now the loudest voices, who are rightfully scared for the safety and well-being of our kids, are out for blood. But rather than focusing on those responsible in the school, they are doing the GOP’s job for it, by making serving on the School Committee intolerable. We’ve had several empty seats on the School Committee because the hardworking volunteer members were no longer willing to put up with the vitriol directed at them.

We’ve lost our superintendent, who spent his career working for Amherst’s kids. He really had little choice but to resign — the buck stops with him. But he was distant from the situation. And yet for some, the departure of School Committee members and the superintendent is not enough — they should remain and sit through endless hours of insults and hate.

Meanwhile, the alleged culprits at the middle school still have their jobs, although have been put on leave. We will never know what really happened, because it is a personnel matter, and the district is prohibited from talking about it. So the loudest voices create the narrative. No two ways about it, though, all the folks who have left care deeply about kids of all stripes, and care about our Amherst schools being the best they can be.

Now we’re left with a bunch of positions that need to be permanently filled. Who would want these jobs? The district has struggled for years to find principals who stay. Area districts struggle to fill superintendent positions (and in some cases had candidates who are anti-trans). And serving on the School Committee is a thankless volunteer position, where once you get elected, you are suddenly on the wrong side. Why would anyone want to put themselves in the line of fire?

If we’re lucky, we have a School Committee whose agenda is to ensure that our schools are stellar, that our teachers feel supported, and that all students are known and valued and learning. This should be our goal.

We’re in danger of these positions potentially being filled by agenda-driven folks, from the left or the right, who may just bring down the public school system. We’ve given them a big opening. A spoken strategy of the right wing is “To get to universal school choice, you really need to operate from a premise of universal public school distrust,” according to Christopher Ruso, a GOP strategist. That goal of creating distrust has clearly been accomplished by the behaviors of school employees at the middle school. And it is being spread via the haranguing the School Committee has had to endure and all the opinions in the paper. Distrust makes families look elsewhere.

The School Committee members who left are not perfect. The School Committee members who remain are not perfect. Future School Committee members will not be perfect. Perfect doesn’t exist. We will never all agree with all of them all of the time. As we consider who we elect to School Committee next, let’s look for candidates who put the success of all students at the fore, including LGBTQ, BIPOC, low income, special needs, and all the many other beautiful identities our students claim. Let’s look for candidates who care about the value of public education to our society.

We are Amherst. Education is at our core. Let’s be thoughtful. Let’s listen to each other. Let’s be constructive. Let’s assume good intentions. Let’s tone down the rhetoric. But let’s remember who we are, and remember that we are all in this together. Let’s not do the GOP’s job for them.

Carol Sharick is a longtime Amherst resident and parent of two daughters who spent their entire K-12 education in the Amherst and regional school systems.


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