🏫 School Board Enthusiasts 🏫 The UnifiEd Student Voice Team's School Board Blog
Due to the sheer length of the January School Board Meeting, we decided to change how we would format the blog. Instead of each covering a topic or set of issues, we decided to choose a board...
member. So, below you will find our accounts of the positions of three board members and our reactions to their positions. In this blog, we chose to cover Rhonda Thurman, Tiffanie Robinson, and Steve Highlander. While there were other topics covered during this board meeting, the majority of the three-hour session (yes, you read that right) was spent discussing the reopening plan for Hamilton County Schools. Spoiler Alert: Nothing really happened after all that was discussed. The board talked for hours, considered a performative resolution that they even admitted probably just gave Dr. Johnson powers that he already had, and eventually tabled the discussion to be continued later.
Rhonda Thurman has always been a board member that never shies away from “going against the grain.” In theme with her regularly scheduled didactic opinions, she expressed that she agreed with the governor’s statement, “If you don’t want your kids back in school, you don’t believe in science.” She then went on to say that “These kids have to get back to school.” Speaking as one of “these kids,” I am frustrated. On the one hand, I understand the burden that online schooling has on working parents and student mental health. On the other hand, I believe that our educational board has a responsibility to the community and its safety. While board member Thurman stated multiple times that the “teachers are going to be exposed (to the virus) regardless,” she completely glazes over the fact that these teachers are putting their lives and families on the line to provide quality education. Furthermore, it seems as though she fails to realize that there are still other people in the community affected by this issue besides teachers and students. When these “healthy” kids go home, they carry the virus out of their homes and into their communities, so addressing this problem with such narrow introspection is not only a disservice to the board but a disservice to the community. She also does not address that, while these families can choose to opt for online education, that doesn't take away from the fact that the students who continue to go in-person are carrying this virus back into the community. This, in turn, could still affect students who chose to stay at home to avoid this issue in the first place. With all that’s been said, I do commend Mrs. Thurman for advocating on behalf of the parents in her county and staying in line with her constituents’ views. I’m just concerned that schools’ opening up won’t be a problem for the schools themselves as much as it is a problem for the community-at-large.
As some school board members refuse to wear a mask or take their mask off when they’re talking, Tiffanie Robinson was not one of those board members. She kept her mask on the whole time and wore it effectively. She was engaged during the meeting and advocated for her district’s and Hamilton County’s teachers and students. She referenced their Tuesday meeting about the physician’s words and the task force and asked Dr. Woods and Dr. Adams to summarize what had been said. Throughout the session, she referenced the two doctors at the meeting to clarify scientific data and decision reasoning not just for her but for the audience watching the meeting. Robinson asked the doctors more about the K-5 versus all the other grades and their view on the grade levels. She was looking for an explanation of the recent changes within different grade levels for clarification. When talking, most board members neglect the teachers and staff. Yes, the parents and students have options to do virtual learning, but teachers don’t. They have to be at school to teach both the in-person students and the virtual students. They are putting their lives at risk every single day. I’ve personally seen teachers quit this year, and we need to keep our teachers and staff safe and prevent them from quitting on us. Robinson was using her voice to advocate for this cause. She then argues with Rhonda Thurman when she called people “cowards” for wanting to stay home during a pandemic. Rightfully so, after all, the CDC recommends staying home amongst their COVID-19 regulations. She said it’s important to separate policy from operations. Throughout the meeting, Robinson stood on the side of parents, teachers, HCS staff, and students and advocated for everyone’s wellbeing.
Throughout this School Board meeting, Rhonda and Tiffanie seemed to us to be the loudest voices in the room surrounding this discussion. However, Steve Highlander also made sure to make his opinions known. Like the other board members, it seemed like much of what Highlander said was simply performative statements so that he could say he spoke up for himself and his constituents. Firstly, throughout the meeting, Steve repeatedly took his mask off when he was called upon to speak. This is just a personal pet peeve for our new covid world, but it should still be mentioned asit is somewhat ironic for school board members to not follow mask protocols as they are discussing covid protocols and reopenings. Much of what Steve Highlander had to say was about how many opinions there are for this community. Highlander mentioned that he had nearly 750 calls on his phone from his constituents about this issue in the couple of days preceding the board meeting. This is undoubtedly a heated issue, and it is no wonder that nothing got done with such intense opinions on both sides.