🏫 School Board Enthusiasts 🏫 The UnifiEd Student Voice Team's School Board Blog
One of the school board’s most debated topics has always been the school year calendar. Yet again, the board discussed where to put spring break and what option to pursue a break in the fall...
The school board has surveyed the community many times in the past to see what parents and teachers think is the best calendar option. The 2018 study was cited during the board meeting, but I remember the same type of survey happening when I was in elementary school. Even then I had strong feelings about fall break staying in our schedules. That’s what made me notice the apparent absence of student input in much of this process. Most of the board members were either focused on teacher or parent feedback or simply wanted to condemn the calendar system without pursuing possible methods of improvement. Joe Smith, however, did ask how many students and teachers responded to that survey. The board voted to table the calendar vote until they had time to review these survey responses. It is important to note that this vote was to approve the 2021-2022 calendar, so as Jenny Hill noted it isn’t exactly a top priority at the moment with the current uncertainty regarding the 2020-2021 school year.
Following the horrific passing of George Floyd, citizens across the country have taken up the commitment to do better and work harder to create safer, more inclusive, and culturally aware spaces. This past Thursday Jenny Hill became a leader of the school board by doing just that. She led with a powerful speech entailing her support and acknowledgment of the students in Hamilton County who are often overlooked. She also touched on her faults as a “White woman” on the board and the need to speak up more in uncomfortable settings. She made the powerful statement, “I am convicted by my lord and savior Jesus Christ to want better for Hamilton County and for Chattanooga. I believe that each of us has to do the work to root out racism in our own hearts,” imploring her fellow board members to take up the position by her to stand and support Hamilton County students with equity and integrity in mind. Board members Joe Wingate, Kathy Lennon, and others followed after showing their support. Jenny Hill’s speech was truly moving and definitely worth a listen, you can find it here.
Some board members, however, tiptoed around the idea by stating that they, “Don’t see color.” To quote political commentator and television host Trevor Noah when one of the guests to his show made the same comment, “So what do you do at a traffic light?” This is the perfect response because when you actively choose “not to see color” (which by the way is physically an impossible choice to make) you take all the context away from the person or in this case, the student. With each race comes different backgrounds and different struggles, so to say that you “don’t see color” puts everyone on the same playing field. However, that is not the reality for all students. It is imperative that board members recognize the differences in the students they represent so that they can effectively understand and find solutions for their concerns.
A significant amount of this meeting was in the form of School Board conversations, rather than comments on specific agenda items. One thing that was brought up and not discussed much because of the awaited announcement was the School Reopening Plan. The School Reopening Task Force released their plan for school reopening on Tuesday 6/25. The reopening plan seems well thought through, however, it’s really difficult to envision this plan in action without seeing it. I have some confidence in the alternating schedules plan, but my dad was extremely skeptical of trusting anyone with this plan. I am really grateful for the benchmarks for cases as to what phase we should be in, but I think that they are possibly too high. It was pointed out on the survey (which you can take here) that if schools reopened today we would already be at Phase 3 (which is basically back to normal but with closing strategies in place if someone tests positive in a school building). I feel that I would be the most comfortable in the long term with alternating schedules because Coronavirus isn’t going away, but I miss regular school so much. The fact that in the midst of all of these rising cases, we would basically be back to normal is alarming to me. One of the most alarming things about Coronavirus to me and many fellow students is the mental health impacts. From being anxious about transmission to facing depression, I really hope the school system is preparing to support the social and emotional needs of students regardless of the reopening plan. Hopefully, a revised version of the current plan will be released soon with lower thresholds or better ways of meeting community feedback. For more information about the plan, check out this great Channel 3 article here or the full plan here.