When did we start disregarding a respectful way to speak to one another?
That’s the question I pondered most recently after covering the OJUSD September School Board meeting.
Before going deeper into this topic, I feel it fair to recognize a few things: first, passion can often times get the better of us. During said meeting, I noticed that from both sides of the table. During my tenure at this job, never had I witnessed a lack of composure and respect from not just the audience, but the board as well. Granted, I don’t envy either side and I too am a parent; however, there are processes and structures in place which were somehow disregarded.
This brings me to the second point: school board meetings (like any structured meeting) operate from an agenda. Within said Agenda is a space for Public Comment. This is the time for community members, parents and the like to address the Board with thoughts, concerns, etcetera, basically to have their voices heard. As is stated on the Agenda, actions are not taken on Public Comment; however, if the board sees fit, they may be added to a future meeting agenda.
This to me, is really quite simple, as well as reasonable. Maybe it’s because I’ve sat in the audience for so many years, but personally I would expect any issue brought before a board to be treated with time and consideration. It does not make sense to me that a board would make a decision on an issue publicly on the night it was presented.
Somehow I saw the structure of meeting agendas coming to their demise during our Distance Learning year. Callers were now able to phone in and address the board rather than appear in person, due to the COVID restrictions. During this time callers were addressing the board via phone call well after Public Comment had closed and specific items were being addressed. So the structure began to fall (in my opinion) and at the September meeting we saw the carryover.
Now truth be told there have been times where people have spoken out from the audience, yet that was short lived as they were asked and directed to save those thoughts for Public Comment. Somehow that all went astray at said meeting and that’s a shame.
In time, parents and community members did find their way to the podium, speaking freely and honesty – as they should. Yet the name calling and lack of listening I saw, took me aback.
Granted there were many good, valid (calm) points made, yet all in all it was truly just a bit of a circus, from what I saw in my seasoned chair.
The next day I spoke with a friend and district administrator honestly about what we had witnessed. Both in agreeance on the shock of how it all was handled and the lack of respect and order. As we spoke the friend shared a feeling and fear that this was a direct effect of our distancing as humans during COVID.
As I let that thought sink in, I realized how accurate it was.
For over a year of our lives, the keyboard warrior phase has gone on steroids. People engulfed in Social Media are now more quick to reply in a curt manner than ever before. Somehow the disconnect of “distancing” has altered our self-awareness and placed us in this odd space of half listening.
The thing of it is, we can be passionate and still maintain respect for the other parties’ views. Somehow that’s not happening and the school board meeting was just an example of what’s happening widely within our communities as of late.
If being honest, I’ve found myself falling into this very trap of disrespect. Gratefully I have a circle, as well as a family who has put me in check.
We don’t always get it right, this I know for sure. Yet at the end of the day, we all return to family that we love, a life that we strive to make better and a world that we share with our neighbor; let’s not forget that.
Teresa Hammond is a staff reporter for The Oakdale Leader, The Riverbank News and The Escalon Times. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 209-847-3021.