In the 17 years I’ve been an administrator in the Derry, NH, school district, we’ve had plenty of controversies. We’ve had school board meetings where members of the public come and share their opinions and disagree. But I’ve never seen people at those meetings being disrespectful—until now.
The biggest controversy? Our mask mandate. We have a lot of parents who are supportive, and all my kids are coming to school wearing masks. But at the same time, we have people coming to school board meetings and being incredibly disrespectful to our teachers and administrators, including some people who don’t even have kids in the school district. They don’t represent the larger population, but they are the ones who are speaking the loudest right now.
I work in a building with 550 children who we need to protect—not only those children, but also their families and my own staff. My teachers aren’t the ones making those decisions, nor am I, but we follow the mandate. It floors me to think that people can’t see there is benefit in asking kids to wear masks.
We have parent-teacher conferences coming up that are going to be in person. My staff worry about the parents who have been at those meetings speaking against masks, even though their kids are wearing masks in school. What will we do if they won’t wear masks in those meetings? What do I have to put in place as a principal to manage that? We do have plans to help teachers deal with problems that might come up, but we will call the police if people get unruly.
It’s unfortunate that we must add another layer of security for school events. At the start of the school year, there was talk about picketing the schools to protest the mask mandate. It didn’t happen, but we still asked the police to patrol at the schools just in case. That’s nerve-racking because you just don’t know what might happen. But you prepare just in case.
I also worry about our school board members. I don’t know how they do it now, quite honestly. I commend them for sticking to it because that’s a lot to take on in a position that you don’t even get paid for. They spend hours of their week being school board members, and then to have to be treated like that is unbelievable to me. At multiple meetings, we’ve had people call them child abusers because they are requiring our kids to wear masks. I can’t believe more of them are not quitting.
And I worry about the future of our schools. I hope all of this is a blip that we get past, and that we can get through the pandemic and back to our normal operating procedures. But my worry is that this has put a big strain on education, not only for administrators but also for teachers. It makes it less enticing for people to want to pursue careers in education.
Working with the kids is the easy part. We all do this because we love kids, and we love working with them. It’s the outside stuff that sometimes makes it much harder than it needs to be.