A Loss of Respect

With politics at an all time high nationwide, monthly board meetings are tense and thus have been straying from educational topics. Feature editor Marleigh Winterbottom reflects on her experiences attending these meetings.


Marleigh Winterbottom



I sat speechless as a man walked confidently up to the stand, with 30 seconds left in the public comment section, closing out the night at a Lakota School Board Meeting. He first commended Board Member Lynda O’Connor for not wearing a mask during the meeting, despite Lakota’s decision to require masks in schools. His 30 seconds were well over, but he was not finished talking. He followed by saying, “this mask stuff is s#%@” and later pulled out the “r” slur.

My face immediately flushed red, my jaw and stomach dropping to the floor. Superintendent Matt Miller, immediately stopped and told him that the “r” slur was not acceptable language. The largely unmasked audience huffed. I could not wrap my head around what I was hearing. I couldn’t imagine ever exhibiting this type of behavior, let alone at a public board meeting. It was embarrassing as a teenager to hear adults exert such rude behavior. 

With an agenda full of important educational topics such as bus driver shortages, budget changes, and the decision to approve a release and separation agreement for former East Principal Yejide Mack, one would think a room packed full of district parents would have at least one thing to say about the educational agenda. 

However, not a single person in attendance was there to speak on the board meeting agenda at hand. They were all waiting to voice their comments in the public comment section where they could speak on topics including Critical Race Theory and decisive and political agendas such as the mask mandate.

One after another, I listened as people stood in front of the board screaming their frustrations at the members, as if they were not sitting only a few feet away. The more aggressive a comment was, the more cheers and claps came from the cramped seats surrounding me. 

I was taken aback by the dogmatic stubbornness of the crowd. In a country where we have freedom of speech and opinions, we should be listening to all sides of every argument, rather than turning a blind eye to opinions differing from our own. However, this practice has seemed to have been thrown out the window. There was no discourse here, just yelling.

Lakota is not the only district facing issues of disruption and disrespect at board meetings. National politics following the 2020 presidential election is still prevalent and has led small, local discourse to turn into harsh battlefields.

I sat there dumbfounded as people screamed “unmask our children!” while Miller was speaking, mid-sentence. Commenters refused to sit down after their three-minute speaking limit was reached, screaming above the voices of board members telling them to stop. 

As a student, if I ever were to act like these adults and parents in attendance did, I would be at risk of suspension or expulsion. To ask for student respect for teachers and staff and then go on to interrupt and argue with a Lakota Board Member is not only contradicting, but counterintuitive. What is this teaching the young kids of the district who look up to these adults? How are we teaching them to act towards others?

I have never felt so out of place in my life than I did in that board meeting. I watched as board members’ faces dropped while speakers used their additional time and three minutes to repeatedly tear them apart. Board President Kelly Casper in particular had to sit, fighting to keep a straight face, as people took all three of their minutes to bash her character and morals for keeping time. There were so many people who came with the sole intent to publicly bash her, that she was given no choice other than to defend her actions in her closing comments. 

Casper explained to the aggravated crowd that her job is to keep time on the comments and cut everyone off after three-minutes, regardless of the topic being discussed. She then went on to inform them that Lakota was sued earlier in the year due to people going over the time limit.

Still, people in the audience huffed and puffed. 

For similar reasons, Board Member Brad Lovell decided against going for the upcoming reelection. While noting that he enjoys serving the district, he had to draw the line when community members began coming after not only him, but his family in public. 

How have we let politics divide us as far as to disregard respect towards others? From a young age, my mom has drilled into my head the importance of respect for my peers, no matter their opinions or beliefs. It is saddening to see that adults around me have lost sight of politeness as they took advantage of the comment time to attack the board. 

Sitting there, speechless, I wish I could have called them out for their childish behavior. It was at that moment, I felt as if my maturity had surpassed those who were supposed to be setting an example for me. I can only hope that the tension and bickering will subside and board meetings will return to their original intent: education, not politics and fights. Until then, I will continue to feel uncomfortable attending meetings because it feels as though the adults who I am supposed to look up to care more about winning an argument than they do improving my educational experience.