By Leland Jay
Imagine you are a parent.
You have a lovely house in a friendly town. You’re super involved with your kids.
You’re a soccer coach. You’re a baseball coach. You’re a Boy Scout troop leader. You have a teaching credential that allows you to substitute teach at your children’s elementary school.
You join the PTA. You’re a room parent. You’re elected to the school’s PTA executive board.
Your school loves you so much that when your time there comes to an end, you receive the highest award the school can bestow upon anyone. Your kids move on to middle school.
The principal (recognized as the state principal of the year) loves you. Parents and teachers deeply appreciate your commitment and dedication to their school. You love your community so much that when your children finish middle school, you think you’d like to run for your town’s school board. And so you do.
Word gets out that you’re running, and many are very pleased. You run unopposed and get elected and are sworn into office.
Two months later, a global pandemic hits and turns the world upside down. All schools close. There are strict state mandates and protocols for schools to reopen. Yours is among the first public school districts in your state to announce a return to in-person learning. Not only that, but your district also gives parents a choice between in-person learning and distance learning for their kids. Quite remarkable!
Nevertheless, some residents in your town are not happy. Some are opposed to the state mandates and are complaining about them. Some get mad, but rather than complain to their state representatives about the state mandates, they complain to you. Some even want to kick you out of office. However, you have to follow the state mandates or risk losing school funding. An out-of-district church holds a town hall meeting about you and invites everyone in your town to come.
There’s a panel discussion and one of the panelists tells the audience that they need to find out where you live and where you work and “make your life miserable.” Some in the audience applaud, as reported by your county newspaper.
People grow more hostile. You receive anonymous threats by email. One of your colleagues receives so many threats that law enforcement deems credible that she has to have a police presence outside of her home for 4 weeks.
You get a reprieve. The recall group misses a deadline which ends their recall attempt.
But the hate just keeps coming, and it’s getting worse. At board meetings, people shout at you, swear, quote Biblical verses at you, and insult you. Anyone paying attention can tell that all of this is heading towards a breaking point.
Then, one day, at one of the meetings, people really lay into you – calling you a bunch of names and hurling personal attacks. You don’t say anything, but one of your colleagues mutters a swear word under her breath. She didn’t even realize she did it, but a hot mic picks it up. She immediately apologizes – privately and publicly. Over a year later, people are still waiting for an apology from the church/organizers that had the town hall meeting about you.
So now they attempt to recall you a 2nd time. You have to endure another 3 months of harassment. Your wife has to drive by your local park every day to see disparaging signs about you. There’s a small group from another town who is in your neighborhood going door to door spreading lies and misinformation about you.
It’s highly effective. Many in the town believe the misinformation about you, but the recall group doesn’t get enough signatures, so the recall fails a second time. However, the cost of the signature audit is $7,320.26 which gets billed to the school district, directly pulling money out of schools. You wonder if these attacks will ever end.
This happened in our town.
I wish to tell you that I am sorry for the loathing and lies leveled at you. I wish that those who seek to know the truth will reach out to you. I encourage our community to apologize to you and offer to buy you lunch or a cup of coffee when they see you. Your wife didn’t deserve this. Your kids didn’t deserve this. You didn’t deserve this. Thank you for not quitting and for enduring all of the unpleasantness. Despite all of this, I would remind you that your district remains quite extraordinary.
How extraordinary, you ask?
Your district just completed building a brand new $67 million STEM building on the high school campus. Two of your six elementary schools received the National Blue-Ribbon award and yours is the only district in the state of California with two schools achieving that status this year. Your high school football team was just on national TV playing a game in Florida.
Your cheerleaders won the national championship. Your high school choir won the national championship (again). Your district offers WellSpace centers on middle school campuses for all kids dealing with mental health issues and since the pandemic, you have doubled the number of mental health counselors.
Your county superintendent of schools has repeatedly stated publicly that your district superintendent is so admired and respected, he is the one all other superintendents in the county seek for advice. The PTA awarded you and your colleagues the Golden Oak award, the highest honor one can receive from the PTA. At the annual PTA breakfast, you and your colleagues received a standing ovation.
I would say you’re doing a great job. Keep your chin up.