Archived Opinion

Keeping politics out of public schools

Keeping politics out of public schools

Education and public schools have never been completely immune from the shifting winds of politics, but events of the last few years have created a new level of interest among voters that — in most cases — is unprecedented.

It remains to be seen, however, what the public’s newfound scrutiny of local school board politics will mean for students and staff. Will it improve the decision-making process of these locally elected boards, or will it further divide communities along partisan lines and erode support for one of the great egalitarian institutions of American society? 

I tend to think the latter is what will occur, that school boards would be better off if we can keep the rancor of partisan politics out of their decision-making process. 

Chris Cooper — who is the Madison Distinguished Professor and director of the Public Policy Institute at Western Carolina University — says controversial issues related to the Covid pandemic put schools and school boards squarely into the partisan crosshairs. 

“The masking issue and the school shutdown issue clearly were an accelerant to a fire that was already burning. We’ve been becoming increasingly partisan. Our school boards are becoming increasingly partisan, and the pandemic absolutely contributed to that,” Cooper told The Smoky Mountain News last week in a story about how school boards are becoming politicized.

As those Covid-related issues became political, normally boring school board meetings became a platform for spirited public comment and partisan bickering. Throw in a few other controversial education issues — critical race theory, transgender and sex education — and it’s easy to understand how the heat got turned up. 

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During the most recent session of the General Assembly, Rep. Mike Clampitt (R-Swain) and Rep. Mark Pless (R-Haywood) introduced a bill that would have made all local elections in Haywood partisan, including the school board. The bill, thankfully, didn’t go anywhere. 

I’ve lived in Wake, Bladen, Durham, Halifax and Haywood counties during my professional career as a reporter and editor. Each of those counties has a distinct personality, faces unique challenges and has its own positive attributes. When considering the uniqueness of those school systems and their communities, there’s just no way an ideology based on the national or state Democratic or Republican platform should be a factor in making local education decisions. Tell me how party politics could help make decisions such as: Can we afford a new gym at this school? Should we offer teachers a supplement? Should we replace books with ipads? How can we offer more Advanced Placement classes? How do we improve test scores at our low-performing elementary schools? 

Those questions require thoughtful deliberations, not fealty to some national party or national leader. If someone simply follows a party ideology, then the context and local knowledge that make school systems work go out the window. We don’t need school board members looking to Donald Trump or Joe Biden for examples of how to vote on a local issue. 

And how would it affect teachers and students if they knew the school board cared more about politics than education, if educators were looking over their shoulder every time they taught concepts and ideas in history, civics, English and art? It just won’t work. 

And there’s this reality to consider: approximately one-third of North Carolinians are registered as independents. independents are the fastest-growing segment of voter registrations. Many of those Independents are simply tired of the partisan divide and the affect it is having on civic life. 

We will all vote our conscience, which may mean the only consideration for some is party affiliation. More power to those folks. But local school boards are best served by people who care more about education and their community than politics. Here’s hoping we keep these races nonpartisan for the foreseeable future. 

(Scott McLeod can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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1 comment

  • Rottsa Ruck! The left has pushed politics into the schools and they are not going to let up. Colleges and universities have simply become wokester seminaries and education is not the goal anymore. The schools have become completely polluted with leftist ideology and have reached the point of being nearly worthless.

    posted by Quartermaster

    Sunday, 10/16/2022

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