The Middleton school district has had a difficult and challenging year. From a scandal involving staff members dressed in stereotypical Mexican costumes and border wall to the failure of a bond at the polls to, most recently, a controversial decision to not renew the contract of a popular principal, the school district has faced a series of challenges.
Regarding the most recent controversy over Middleton High School Principal Ben Merrill, what concerns us the most is the lack of civility around the decision.
Audio from the live stream of the school board meeting at which the decision was made became inaudible with yells from the crowd of community members who attended.
Board Member Kirk Adams, who has been sitting on the board for about a month, said that the “violent” atmosphere at the meeting had the board members concerned for their safety.
“For the first time in my life, I went to bed with slight fear for my and my wife’s safety,” he told the Idaho Press. “The room had escalated, and we were fearful.”
After the board came out of executive session, the room was in a “frenzy,” he said. Some of the board members drove different routes home afterward.
As the board members were walking through the crowd to leave the meeting, he said, attendees were signing petitions for the recall of board members Tim Winkle, Kirk Adams and Aleisha McConkie.
A video circulating on Facebook shows an altercation between McConkie and an audience member. The camera turns toward the floor, but McConkie alleges the individual grabbed her arm after she pushed the camera away from her face.
Calls of “Aleisha, you’re dead” can be heard in the background audio of the video. McConkie said the situation has her “hiding in her home.”
This is just deplorable behavior.
We’re not going to weigh in on the school board’s decision to not renew Merrill’s contract and whether it was the right or wrong decision. We certainly see both sides of it.
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What we’re most concerned about is the lack of civil behavior toward the school board members and the administration through all of this.
First of all, school board member is a volunteer position. School board members are people in the community, who live and pay taxes in the community, raise their children and send them to school in their community. To be treated this way — no matter how much you disagree with them — is inexcusable.
Second, school board members have more information at their disposal than the general public. They have more knowledge about the circumstances than they are able to disclose to the public. We are not going to second-guess that.
Third, they are trying to do what’s best for the community, with the consideration of all of the information that they’ve looked at. They’re not “out to get” someone or destroy someone’s life. They’re trying to make the best decision for the school district.
Finally, this is how the system works. You elect your school board members to make these kinds of tough decisions. If you don’t agree with that decision, that’s certainly understandable, and you should absolutely express your opinion. But that’s it. The line stops at that dais. The final decision is in the hands of the volunteer school board members, and that’s the decision that the community must accept and respect — even if, perchance, that decision is the wrong one.
To abuse, shout at and threaten your fellow parents and neighbors is crossing the line of civil discourse. Let the politicians in Washington call each other ugly names and shout at each other. Don’t let that trickle down to our hometowns.
One school board member has already resigned amid all this turmoil. With treatment like this, why would anyone want to be on the school board in the future?
This all comes at a time that the National Institute for Civil Discourse announced its first state-level advisory board — in Idaho — which will be co-chaired by former Republican Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter and former Democratic Idaho Congressman Walt Minnick.
In making the announcement, Otter said in today’s politics, there are too many personalities: “You’ve gotta hate the other person,” he said. “And I just don’t. I have never in 25 races. I have never been comfortable in saying bad things about my opponent.”
Rep. Melissa Wintrow, D-Boise, another member of the advisory board, said, “To me, civility … is more than just ‘please’ and ‘thank you.’ It’s seeing people as people and not as objects. When we connect, we show up with a genuine desire to help,” she said. “It’s about people and getting things done and treating each other with dignity and respect.”
That’s a message we should all embrace at the local level, as well.