Clergy Speak on Public Schools
We Should Listen and Act
We are in the midst of a a nationwide assault on public school boards and public schools. The trouble is that a solid public education system is woven into our daily lives and expectations so tightly that most of us take its presence and high quality as a given. Can you name even a single member of your local school board? Serving on a school board in Washington State is an unpaid position traditionally held by people with a genuine interest in education, people who, for the most part, did not seek election to a school with the expectation of be harassed and vilified for their public service.
Many school district board meetings have gone from quiet public gatherings of the board members and a few interested observers and commenters to standing-room-only gatherings characterized by belligerence and disruption. The attendees currently seem centered on opposing mask mandates, challenging school boards to rebel against state law while basing their opposition on viral disinformation spread on social media. Mask mandates may be the spark, and, currently, the uniform (in that many of these people are identified by their refusal to wear masks in school board meetings), but the undercurrents are many (See P.S. below). They include demands to teach creationism as science, opposition to comprehensive sex education, advocates for “school choice” (public funding for parochial schools) and movements against advocating for equity and inclusion—a not-so-subtle nod to our history of segregation and racism served up under the guise of opposing “CRT”.
The movement has managed to elect one of its own. A closer look at a recently elected school board member in the Central Valley School District (southern Spokane valley), Pam Orebaugh, reveals a woman who has said, “Full transparency.... our daughter is not in the district and I don't know how many times a day I say.... I don't know if she will ever step foot in the CV school district again!” That’s enlightening. CVSD now has a board member who is so disaffected with public education that her daughter attends school elsewhere.
There is a prominent strain of far right wing Fundamentalist “Christianity” that runs through this movement as well—so far off the edge of the spectrum of what I recognize from my United Methodist upbringing that pastors are standing up this belligerence.
The following is a Letter to the Editor that appeared in the Spokesman on February 22. Rev. Genavieve Haywood is the pastor at Veradale United Church of Christ:
Not about masks at CVSD Board meeting
At the Feb. 14 Central Valley School District Board meeting, an anti-mask group with whom board member Pam Orebaugh met on Jan. 31 came forward to serve papers to the board. This is about politics, not masks.
This group, through Pam, pushed the board for a letter to the governor demanding the lifting of the mask mandate. It would create a precedent for school boards to refuse state directions. What mandate will be next? Imagine these parents requiring the overturning of the mandated reporting rules concerning suspected abuse or endangerment of children. This is not about masks.
Three parents raised concerns about racism in our schools specifically about white students using racial slurs toward Black students and white students wrapping themselves in alt-right flags. At past board meetings, the anti-mask group frequently spoke about their concerns for the fragility of white students. They believe that if the facts of history are taught, the white students could not handle the truth. However, the stress and trauma done to our Black, LGBTQ and female students are, by default, sanctioned. There are things that are simply true: the earth is a sphere, the Holocaust did happen, Native lands were stolen, slavery was brutally practiced in our country, and white students can learn to handle the truth.
Public schools belong to all children of differing faiths, gender identities, places of birth, colors of skin, and differing incomes. “Serving the board” was about political power to overturn state direction, whitewashing history and defying science.
The Rev. Genavieve Heywood
It is not only the United Church of Christ. Mark Wingfield, executive director and publisher of Baptist News Global and former associate pastor of Wilshire Baptist Church in Dallas, penned an article in Baptist News Global entitled, “It’s time to stop the insanity that is killing public education”, in which he calls out “A very loud minority of parents [who] want to conform entire school systems to their narrow ways of seeing the world.” I recommend reading Wingfield’s article, which is the more remarkable for its publication in a religiously conservative magazine.
Finally, I recommend reading Doug Muder’s “What if public schools were the target all along?” for a well-crafted argument on the linkage of the current belligerence to “school choice”. Doug Muder is the author of The Weekly Sift, for which I highly recommend you sign up. Mr. Muder is often a guest pastor in the Unitarian Church.
It is time for us to rouse ourselves from our complacency about public schools and start paying attention. One hopes that with Covid beginning to fade and mask mandates (hopefully) in the rearview mirror (based on science, not nonsense) school board meetings held in person will see more attendance by people interested in understanding and supporting the work of school boards rather than assailing them. Get involved!
Keep to the high ground,
P.S. Pam Orebaugh’s total agreement (10 on a scale of 10) on her “School Board Candidate Survey” demonstrate the ideological linkages well. On school choice:
A voucher system for education should be available to all families. These taxpayer-funded vouchers should “travel with the student,” and be used at parents’ discretion for the educational model they choose, including charter schools, private schools, and homeschooling.
On the origin of life and the environment:
Public schools should “teach the controversy” regarding the origins of life. Additionally, students should be exposed to different theories of climate change while focusing on universally agreed upon stewardship measures, such as not littering, conserving resources, etc.
“Theories of climate change”??? Shall we boil down climate change to Lady Bird Johnson’s crusade against litter? I like a visually clean environment, but litter is hardly an existential threat…