As a parent, I understand the intense feelings expressed by parents in our community during these contentious days and conflict at Peoria Unified School District.
There were times when it was hard to send our kids to school before COVID-19 due to unresolved conflicts, mistrust of one another and dare I say it, politics. The fear and uncertainty was experienced by everyone, including our kids, who still look to us to provide comfort and security through the uncertainty.
It would be easy enough to blame the pandemic for where we are today. Of course, it was a major factor but the virus itself is not to blame. It only served to exacerbate problems we already had. Same thing with the masks. Same thing with equity and inclusion. These are symptoms of bigger problems.
As a community, we are doing a tremendous disservice to our kids. The opposition, aggression and hostility being expressed publicly in board meetings and viciously on social media is compromising the safety of our kids. The way this is all progressing may be a greater threat to our kids than COVID-19 ever was.
The main points of contention are equity and inclusion, which are not new concepts, nor is social and emotional learning. All have been integral components of public education since its inception. They are not divisive nor controversial concepts.
Equity and inclusion simply means that every child has a right to a free and appropriate education, regardless of any circumstance.
Social and emotional learning means that students, staff and community members are expected to behave a certain way at school. This applies to everyone who sets foot on campus. The school administrators have been tasked with ensuring that this happens. Not contentious.
The reasons E&I and SEL are at the forefront right now are neither political nor ideological. We have been working on operationalizing and implementing strategies that support E&I and SEL for at least the past five years, before Biden, before Trump, before Hoffman, before Douglas. That is a diverse group of leaders who all supported this at some level.
There is an urgency to move forward quickly due to the unknown effects of the pandemic on students returning to school and the pre-COVID epidemic rates of youth suicide completion. The goal being to save lives by creating and maintaining school environments where all students and personnel know they are safe from physical and emotional harm.
The opposition to this is both baffling and concerning. The environment that we have collectively established is far from safe. There is certainly enough blame to go around. It is not solely on administrators or educators or community or parents or the government. It is a combination of aggression, hostility, apathy, passivity and cruelty from adults all over the political and social spectrums. It definitely isn’t the students creating the divide but they will suffer for it if we continue to behave this way, if they aren’t already.
This is an ideal circumstance for a student or group of students to fly under the radar and plan an attack.
The psychological effects of the divisiveness on our children has not been studied exhaustively. But we do know that witnessing violence and experiencing vicarious violence is considered an Adverse Childhood Experience. ACEs has been studied exhaustively. The effects of ACEs can be lifelong. Children who experience ACEs have higher drop-out rates, lower test scores, lower grades, less peer interaction, engage in high-risk behaviors, have more interactions with the legal system, as well as have higher rates of aggression, depression, anxiety and suicide. The list goes on.
We are now knowingly putting our kids in jeopardy. Isn’t this why we are all so up in arms? For the kids, right? If we are truly concerned about the kids, which I believe whole heartedly we are, we need to take a step back and find another avenue to discuss our disagreements and find solutions. We need to listen to each other and see each other as human beings. Until that happens, no student is safe at school.
Editor’s note: Kelly Carbello is a Master’s level social worker, mental and behavioral health advisor as well as emergency preparedness consultant.