Falling on deaf ears

Joshua Hardee , Assistant Editor

“Mr. O’Malley, you don’t see us foodservice like we’re people; from day one you haven’t.”

Among others, this is what I remember from my first school board meeting at Florence School District 1 (FSD1): the appeals of the community. Superintendent O’Malley was everyone’s target; I came to understand that by the end of the meeting, but originally, I didn’t know what to expect.

I figured much of it would involve tedious discussions about the running of schools and maybe a little bickering here and there, perhaps, derision and division at some point. Boy, was I wrong. Questions of racial discrimination, loyalty to staff, the motivation behind certain contracts and whether students really are first in Florence District 1 were the prominent points of discussion.

Once the board members made it to the heavier topics, I saw the concerns of different districts, how each district responded to the concerns of the others and how the audience reacted to the board’s decisions or their unwillingness to make them.

When people were able to make their remarks to the board, they very civilly, though sometimes emotionally, confronted the board about the issues they see negatively impacting their community. With all the pretty talk in the beginning, and the distribution of awards, and then seeing all the downcast eyes and distracted faces of the members – it was infuriating and terribly disheartening. It was like the rug under which so many difficult subjects had been hastily swept was snatched up, exposing all the empty promises and vain efforts.

Of course, I appreciate how easy it is for someone to misinterpret a member’s comments or to mistake their silence for something more sinister or make out a problem where none exists. But when you witness the earnest pleas petitioning the board and those on the board just averting their eyes, treating it as a matter of business, what is a first-time attendee supposed to think?

I don’t usually like making disclaimers but I feel it’s necessary here. I don’t know the full backstory of the board’s discussions nor the background of each member and how that might have influenced their conduct. And I’m not wanting to say who’s a good or bad guy; I just want to share the experience that I had. Labeling certain members and disparaging them isn’t necessary when they garner ridicule well-enough on their own. I must say FSD1 really didn’t do themselves a favor by being so tight-lipped when they should be talking and, in some cases, I thought the people’s reactions were well-deserved. The thing about remaining silent is that if you don’t solve a problem when you can, someone else is only too eager to do so.

Honestly, I never expected such civic engagement from the audience. That might say more about the acute sense of cynicism that’s so tightly wound up in me, but I guess when you don’t have much first-hand experience you rely on random news articles to formulate imperfect ideas. I hate when people get up and run their mouth on subjects they don’t understand as much as the next person. Often, I wonder if such things are worth it when they’re consistently met with contention or only get disregarded.