Carmel Clay School Board meetings transition to virtual; ‘I hope we can get back to the way we were’

Education

CARMEL — Since the return of in person meetings after the height of the pandemic, schools have reported an alarming rate of these meetings turning disruptive, unruly or even violent and forcing school boards to take action.

The National School Boards Association recently took the matter to the President’s desk, asking for help in punishing would be threats in a similar way to domestic terrorism or hate crimes. 

Monday’s planned school board meeting for Carmel Clay Schools had to be held virtually, the board said, after their previous meetings had become more and more chaotic. 

The meeting, which served as an interview for four candidates for District 2, lasted just over an hour with no public comment portion. Superintendent Michael Beresford says their move to virtual meetings was an unfortunate necessity. 

“It’s sad that we have to do this but at the same time we’re able to get important work done,” Beresford told reporters after the meeting. “We can’t let anything distract us from our mission of providing our kids with a good quality education.”

There was no disruption, little noise, only flowers… given anonymously to the board by a family showing their continued support to the board amid the transition to virtually conducted meetings. 

The kind gesture was not lost on Beresford. 

“I believe in our community,” Beresford said. “I think we’ll pull back together.”

But his belief in the community remains unproven – after the board walked out of their last meeting on September 30th when the board says the crowd became too raucous to continue. 

“School board meetings have become a lightning rod for contention because they are public,” Carmel Clay Schools said in a statement released Sept. 30. “Some believe the loudest in the room or those with the most media attention will “win” an argument in today’s charged climate. We are here to serve the 16,000+ students of Carmel Clay Schools. In a district as large as CCS, disagreements will occur. However, we will no longer allow our board meetings to be a means to divide our community.”

“I wish we had a solution to this but it is what it is and we’ve gotta respond and our mission’s always the same,” Beresford said. “We want our kids to be known and loved, we want to be challenged appropriately and we want to be good people.”

However experts like Indiana University Professor of Psychological and Brain Sciences Edward Hirt says things have changed since the pandemic began and the growing trend of uproar and outrage in public could be here to stay.

“When people do that, they’re really acting out, we see that as really wrong and unusual behavior and it’s not so unusual anymore actually,” Hirt said. “There are a lot of people who fear that this is more normal… that it isn’t something that we always believed, oh that’s not right. It’s changed now to who speaks the loudest, who is the most persistent, who says “I’ve done my research” even if, you know, their research hasn’t been as thorough as it needed to be…”

The board’s meeting was, as it always is, recorded for the public to view at any time, but they hope to return to in person meetings when possible and safe to do so.

“ I hope we can get back to the way we were, where we’re working together,” Beresford said. “Because it’s just sad. I’ve been in the business, you know, almost 40 years and this is all new territory for me too. So is the pandemic though.”

Which experts like Hirt say is likely to blame in the first place.

“The escalation that we’ve seen of this kind of act of just impatience, aggressiveness kind of lashing out at other people is certainly somewhat of a outgrowth or result of just the constant stress people have been under over the last 18 months with the pandemic,” Hirt said. “People feel jerked around and what I think has been the hardest thing for people to adjust to is the fact that we’re dealing with something that is somewhat of an unknown at this point.”

Carmel Clay says they will make a return to in person board meetings in the future, however no timetable was available Monday night. 

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