School board members feeling pressure amid disputes with parents, advocates over mask policies

School boards around Arizona felt the heat on the night of Aug. 25, as parents and advocates spoke out on mask policies and potential mandates, causing an uproar in at least two different districts.

Litchfield Elementary School District

During a meeting involving board members of the Litchfield Elementary School District in the West Valley, a member decided to resign after five months.

"I can no longer be a part of this sinking ship," said Dr. Tara Armstrong, who was the boards only Black member.

Dr. Armstrong said she was targeted and dismissed because of her skin color, but the last straw was COVID-19 related.

"That was on Monday night, when I got text messages from two individuals in the community that it was my fault for their child being exposed to other students with COVID, and it was my fault for the increase in COVID cases in the district, and at that point I said I can’t do this anymore," said Dr. Armstrong.

We have reached out to the other board members from Litchfield Elementary via email, but they have yet to respond.

Scottsdale Unified School District

In the East Valley, a Scottsdale Unified board meeting took an unusual turn, when a woman, during the public comment period, accused school district officials of orchestrating the neo-Nazi incident that Greenburg mentioned.

"I want everybody to know that that was actually one of your own employees that chose to drop that around," the woman said.

"I'm sorry. That isn't true. I just want to be very clear that that isn't true," Greenburg retorted.

"I don't think you're allowed to speak during my comment! Am I wrong? I'd like to have some time at it" the woman replied.

"You can have time at it, but I want to be very clear to people that it's not true," Greenburg said.

After the woman was finished with her comment, Greenburg once again refuted her accusation.

"I just want to be very clear, for the record, that no employee was involved in the neo-Nazi propaganda incident. That is incorrect," Greenburg said. "That is a reference to a pre-existing investigation that was not concluded. It has since concluded, and no SUSD employee was involved."

Immediately thereafter, Greenburg quietly uttered the profane word, which was captured by microphones in the meeting room.

Amy Carney, who spoke at the meeting about parental rights, said she was upset when she heard about the incident.

 "I just think it’s showing his immaturity. Our board president’s immaturity and inability to lead a large district like this."

In a statement released by School District Superintendent Dr. Scott Menzel on Aug. 25, it was acknowledged that Greenburg was the one who uttered the profanity.

"He acknowledged that later in the meeting and apologized," read a portion of the statement. "The district is committed to offering opportunities for the public to share their opinions and to listen to them respectfully as we work to meet the needs of our students while navigating the challenges of COVID."

Greenburg also apologized during a latter part of the meeting.

Previously, school officials announced some changes to the way the meeting was conducted, due to concerns over protests.

School board meeting disruptions happening more often

According to various reports by the Associated Press, school boards in Delaware, Nevada and New York have seen meeting disruptions in August over the issue of masks.

The Associated Press is also reporting that in parts of the country, anti-vaccine and anti-mask demonstrations are taking scary and violent turns.

Educators, medical professionals and public figures have been stunned at the level at which they have been vilified for even stating their opinion, and they have been terrified over how far protesters will go in confronting leaders outside their homes and in their workplaces.

Some experts say social media may be to blame

Researchers, professors and political experts have varying opinions about how and why discourse seems to keep plunging to new lows over the pandemic, but many agree that social media is a big factor.

Barbara Rosenwein, professor emerita at Loyola University Chicago and author of "Anger: The Conflicted History of an Emotion," said social media can make minority views look more like the majority. On the many social media platforms, people validate each other’s anger as being from a just and righteous place.

"Over time the possibility of feeling righteous anger has become democratized. Everybody feels almost obligated to feel it," Rosenwein said. "That locks you into a position that will allow for no compromise, which is terrible for our country."

That anger also makes it seem OK to buck authority such as teachers and government at a time of heightened culture wars on topics like education. Getting punished or even arrested might feel like "a badge of courage," she said. "I don’t think these people are running into old-age homes and telling granny she better not get vaccinated. I think they’re telling the school teachers because teachers represent an elite that’s teaching their kids."

The Associated Press (AP) contributed to this report.

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