School board meetings in 2021 were contentious as mask mandates led discussions

The coming new year may see a lull in some of the uproar at area school board meetings over Covid policies and other issues, say education leaders. In this Aug. 12, 2021 file photo, protesters against a COVID-19 mandate gesture as they are escorted out of the Clark County School Board meeting at the Clark County Government Center, in Las Vegas. Similar scenes have played out in some Butler County school districts during a few school board meetings in 2021. (File Photo\Journal-News)

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The coming new year may see a lull in some of the uproar at area school board meetings over Covid policies and other issues, say education leaders. In this Aug. 12, 2021 file photo, protesters against a COVID-19 mandate gesture as they are escorted out of the Clark County School Board meeting at the Clark County Government Center, in Las Vegas. Similar scenes have played out in some Butler County school districts during a few school board meetings in 2021. (File Photo\Journal-News)

Leaders urge public to have clear understanding of meeting rules

One of 2021′s lightning rod school stories — public uproar at school board meetings — may have cooled somewhat from a few months ago, but local school boards should remain prepared, say state and local education leaders.

The vociferous outcry from some school parents locally and nationwide over coronavirus mask mandates, vaccines and other related policies are at a low ebb now, said Rick Lewis, chief executive officer of the Ohio School Board Association, but that may not last long into 2022.

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“Things do seem to have calmed down considerably,” said Lewis. “And I attribute that to (school board) elections” held in November.

“We had a record number of candidates in the hunt for school board seats this year. Obviously, even though we want to see Covid fade away as quickly as possible, issues about masks and vaccinations are still going to linger,” said Lewis, whose statewide organization represents more than 700 local school boards for public districts, county career school systems and county educational services centers.

The November elections of local board members in Butler County saw some boards add new, first-time candidates whose campaigns included sharp criticisms of current boards and various Covid-related policies.

Moreover, some board races — most notably in Lakota Schools — also included candidate campaign allegations of Critical Race Theory — and its curricula variations being taught without some school parents’ knowledge.

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Lakota officials have contended CRT is not taught in its 17,000-student district.

The recent meeting of the Lakota school board saw some members describe the past year and its controversies involving some disgruntled school parents complaining at meetings as historically contentious.

Kelley Casper, president of the Lakota Board of Education, used the words “upheaval” and “strife” when describing some parts of the last two years.

Departing Lakota school board member Brad Lovell, who did not seek re-election, said working on a public school board during the global pandemic was like being on the political “front lines” on a variety of hot-button issues.

The Lakota board saw voters elect two political conservatives to the five-member governing body.

Hamilton’s Board of Education caught its own share of blow back in 2021 with some school parents blasting its members during board meetings for a since relaxed mandatory student masking policy.

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And for some coronavirus policies — and other reasons unrelated to the pandemic — Madison Schools’ governing boards also experienced unusual friction with some of its school parents in 2021.

Lewis said the OSBA’s member services will soon be conducting its annual training sessions for newly elected school board members around Ohio.

Included in those instructions will be some more emphasis on the legal responsibilities and traditional practices local school boards use while engaging the public that elects them.

“We are going to be spending some time on how public participation works. There are a lot of misconceptions on what Ohio laws require. They (OSBA trainers) will touch base on that but I don’t think it will be dramatically different,” he said.

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