The new year is now fully underway for the City of Falls Church Public School System, and so far, so good. After a contentious election was held last year that resulted in all the best (read “News-Press endorsed”) candidates winning, it looks like the School Board leadership will continue above reproach, and Superintendent Dr. Peter Noonan deserves kudos for leading the system through myriad travails associated with the successful construction of a brand new high school, now the pride of the region, and headaches associated with the Covid-19 pandemic, which are all now hopefully behind us.
As experienced by neighboring school divisions, especially Arlington and Loudoun County, disruptions of school board activity were a major problem and will likely continue this fall. Citizens were activated in the last years by a combination of the pandemic, and school policies adopted to deal with it, that some seemed to be controversial, and a more general climate of protest and disruption associated with the sorry last U.S. presidential administration. Now this dissent has spread to include protests over books suddenly deemed inappropriate and other hot button issues aimed at throwing school systems off balance all across the U.S.
Falls Church certainly had its share of dissenting parents over Covid-19 policy issues, but it was mitigated by superior efforts at communicating with the community at large, sticking strictly to guidance from the state and county health departments, and mostly from a preponderance of wise and responsible citizens who stepped up to bring to pass the right outcome from last fall’s School Board election and to support the superintendent’s and School Board’s decisions.
Yes, Falls Church’s is an unusually small system, and for some that is a sufficient explanation to account for the relative concord through recent crises it has experienced. But there is more to it, lessons that should be learned for the nation’s political fabric, more generally. They have to do with attention given to communication and discourse, and the implicit respect that is afforded to all as a result. It also has to do with civility, and a broad based community insistence that civility be maintained.
One of our main concerns with what has been going on nationally has been the way social media platforms have tolerated and therefore played roles in proliferating such disgusting language and sentiments among all the comments that citizens convey, a great majority anonymously, online. We used to get our share every week on our website, too. But it stopped for us abruptly when we required that parties identify themselves as a precondition for commenting. It caused an immediate change. All the bad mouthing ceased overnight, and of course a good share of that came from “bots,” not real people but often foreign-sourced dissemblers. If there is any lesson from this, it is how our nation’s adversaries see hate-mongering and foul language as effective tools against us, and against democracy more generally.