SUNBURY — Big Walnut Local Schools has entered its winter break, a respite for students and staff during extraordinary times. Like other districts across the state and the country, Big Walnut is weathering an ongoing pandemic and a divided populace.
In nearby Worthington, a school board member received a threatening letter, prompting Superintendent Trent Bowers to post a blog that went viral. It was picked up by The Washington Post and published as an opinion piece in September.
“Public schools are becoming battlegrounds over health and politics,” Bowers wrote. “Every day, my team is deluged with emails, phone calls and messages from families angry about our COVID-19 policies.”
Bowers admitted that for educators like himself, “going to school right now is just plain hard … many parents here are angry about masks. Angry about students having to wear them. Angry when someone isn’t wearing them. Some families want more restrictions. Others think the school district is making decisions that should be better left to families.”
Safety isn’t the only thing stressing out those who work in the schools, Bowers wrote. Staffing bus drivers, substitute teachers, and other positions is becoming more difficult for schools.
“My plea is for all of us to simply recognize that this is a stressful time,” Bowers concluded. “We can get through this together. But let’s do it holding hands, not pitchforks.”
Big Walnut Superintendent Angie Hamberg cited Bowers’ blog in a recent district newsletter.
“In our Central Ohio Superintendent Association meetings, the story is pretty much the same in every district,” Hamberg wrote. “We are all doing our best to serve our students, but everyone is at a breaking point.”
Expressing concern for the future of public education and a rise in hate speech, Hamberg made some suggestions for future dialogue: Please be kind; show empathy; presume positive intentions; advocate for your child in a productive way; and model respectful disagreement.
“I believe our kids deserve better from us,” Hamberg said. “I am hoping we can take more time to try to truly consider others’ views, as I believe we all deeply care about our kids and come together as a community to create a welcoming environment for everyone.”
Outgoing Board of Education President Brad Schneider wrote in September that the district’s top goal “was to keep kids in school five days a week. In order to do that, we would have to do some things that would be inconvenient and not necessarily everyone’s personal preference.”
Specifically, he was referring to the wearing of masks. He said the board would continue to monitor school and community data before a change in policy took place.
“In the meantime, I have one simple request. Please be nice,” Schneider wrote. “Disagreement about has been, and will continue to be, respected and acknowledged. But berating our administration and staff serves zero purpose, as they have not made the choice the board has made. They are being asked to execute the decision in the best manner possible.”