In the aftermath of a highly controversial split vote to temporarily ban spectators from high school sporting events, local superintendents are seemingly doing the unthinkable: treating colleagues with respect and deference. Not one superintendent has publicly accused another of fascism, power grabs or fake science. Not one has gone rogue, announcing that while other districts are free to "live in fear," theirs is going to do as it pleases, majority vote be damned.
More than most, district superintendents understand what was at stake in their 6-4 vote to bar spectators from attending local high school basketball and wrestling matches until Jan. 23 as their districts work to fend off the Omicron-fueled surge in COVID-19 cases on the North Coast. They've dedicated their lives to education and have seen first-hand what students lost through distance learning and canceled sports seasons. They get the cumulative toll the pandemic is taking on our youth, as they see it on their campuses daily in the form of widened achievement gaps and the increased need for everything from counseling services to free meals. But they also understand just how daunting a task it is to keep school doors open — and students and staff safe — amid a surging pandemic. And with schools having been handed the task of implementing mitigation measures and conducting contact tracing investigations on their campuses, the superintendents also understand how COVID-19 can spread through a community.
Amid all these competing factors, the superintendents contemplated a bold, proactive decision at a time when too many institutions have simply awaited guidance. They voted their conscience and, when the votes were tallied, they stood together.
If you read this week's cover story (page 9), you'll see that doesn't mean they muted dissenting voices. Rather, you'll see that the majority respected the minority, and the minority the majority. When talking about the decision, each administrator contacted by the Journal seemingly went out of their way to indicate they understood the other side of the issue, seeing that reasonable people with pure motives could see it differently.
"I know it was a difficult decision for each of us," said Ferndale Unified School District Superintendent Beth Anderson.
"We respect the decision that was made," said Southern Trinity High School Principal Andy Felt.
"I cannot fault my colleagues for doing what they think is best for their students, their staff, their communities," said Del Norte Unified School District Superintendent Jeff Harris.
This is what leadership looks like, and it's at once refreshing and sad to write that in an editorial.
It's refreshing because, well, leadership has all too often been lacking through the course of this pandemic, as many officials at all levels of government have seemed too willing to duck hard conversations and difficult decisions for fear of becoming a target of public ire. Worse yet, others have played off that ire with a political calculus that's beneath the positions they hold.
On the other hand, it's sad because there simply should not be anything particularly noteworthy about a group of public officials voting for what they think is right without vilifying colleagues who see things differently or questioning their integrity.
But one need only glance over at Congress to see true leadership is in terrifyingly short supply these days.
While looking back on 2021 in these pages a couple weeks ago, we urged readers to enter the new year with a focus on gratitude and grace. Eleven days into the new year, we find ourselves grateful to have a group of leaders who took on a difficult decision about how to best serve our youth and simply did what they collectively thought was right. And we're even more grateful they managed to do it with grace.
Thadeus Greenson (he/him) is the Journal's news editor. Reach him at 442-1400, extension 321, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @thadeusgreenson.