Lower the volume in equity debate

Published 5:01 pm Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Opponents of Isle of Wight County Schools’ equity and inclusion movement have made their point and scored a couple of major political victories. Now, for the good of this community, it’s time to turn down the temperature.

Isle of Wight has a long, proud history of civil discourse in its public affairs. Even the emotional, monthslong debate over the fate of the county’s Confederate monument was mostly constructive and courteous, culminating with a unanimous decision by the Board of Supervisors that both sides could live with. Humility, kindness and respect should remain hallmarks of this community’s handling of controversial issues.

The recent backlash against the Isle of Wight County School Board and administrators has been anything but. Last week’s school board meeting, at which the chairwoman announced she was abandoning her reelection bid and another member tendered her resignation, reached a new low in tenor.

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We make an assumption in our observation of local politics and public affairs that people — many of them our friends, neighbors and fellow churchgoers — are sincere and well-intentioned. We believe that to be true in the equity and inclusion debate. School administrators and elected leadership sincerely want all children to succeed, regardless of their skin color, sexuality or any other characteristic. Many parents believe, also sincerely, that public schools have gone too far in casting all white students and teachers as part of a bigger oppression of minorities. There’s a constructive way to have that debate without demonizing the other side as evil.

Instead, equity and inclusion opponents have chosen to mimic poor role models on the national political stage and activists on social media, where vitriol is fashionable. Such outbursts might be considered cute and provocative in a viral video, but they are harmful to our community, state and nation.

Superintendent Jim Thornton also has some responsibility for a more constructive debate going forward. The IWCS leader has been a little smug in his defense of the equity and inclusion movement and dismissive of concerned parents, going the way of Terry McAuliffe, whose dreadful “I don’t think parents should be telling schools what they should teach” declaration in a recent debate might well cost him a gubernatorial election he was once predicted to win in a landslide.