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Serving Northern St. Louis County, Minnesota

Schools and masks

The GOP is using misinformation to keep the public enraged

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If you walk into a local restaurant and start berating the hostess, waiter, or bartender, any self-respecting employer is going to send you right back out the door. Most employers recognize that they have an obligation to ensure that their staff is treated respectfully— and they take that obligation seriously.
That applies, as well, to the Ely School Board, which has taken steps to ensure that its own staff isn’t subject to the kind of abuse, including personal attacks, that school officials experienced in recent meetings over the school district’s decision to require mask wearing, at least while the delta variant of COVID-19 continues to spread rapidly in our region.
The public certainly has a right to speak its mind, but the school board has a right to expect that such debate will be carried on with some semblance of dignity and respect for its employees. After some mask opponents demonstrated they were unable to control themselves, the school board took steps to bring the public forum portion of their meetings back under some level of control.
To be clear, the school board has no obligation, we repeat— no obligation— under either the Constitution or state or federal law, to even offer public input during their meetings. Laudably, most school boards, including Ely’s, continue to offer that opportunity, despite the abuse that has been heaped on school officials across the country over their efforts to protect public health. And the steps taken by the Ely school board aren’t that unusual. Other area school districts have had similar limitations on public comments in effect for years.
Requiring kids to wear masks in school is such a minor matter, that it’s easy to recognize that this really isn’t about masks at all for many of the critics of the requirement. Just as Republican operatives used false claims of death panels and creeping socialism to organize the so-called Tea Party ahead of the 2010 midterms, the same forces are using false claims about public health to enrage and organize their potential supporters yet again. This mini uprising against school officials is simply political strategy, being fed through misinformation peddled across right-wing media and the internet, as part of an organized effort to whip up GOP supporters ahead of next year’s midterms.
These aren’t matters of principle. This is about politics. The Republican Party opted to politicize a global pandemic, using misinformation and paranoia to fuel opposition to every element of the public health response— from social distancing, to mask-wearing, to vaccines. Rather than providing leadership at a critical time, far too many GOP politicians, including Eighth District Congressman Pete Stauber, were happy to play along with the outrage, even as many went out and quietly got their shots in private. Not exactly profiles in political courage.
The outrage over the alleged teaching of critical race theory in our K-12 schools is just more of the same. Right-wing commentators whip up a frenzy, which is bolstered as their fictions are spread through social media, and pretty soon legions of the misled show up at school board meetings to rage at the injustice of it all. Many of those involved likely don’t even recognize the degree to which they are being intentionally manipulated by those who benefit from the Republicans’ perennial support of wealthy, corporate interests.
These same forces are now distorting the directive by U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland, asking the FBI to assist local law enforcement in addressing the rise of harassment and threats of violence against school board members across the country. In a recent press statement, Rep. Stauber expressed his “increasing concern over the Biden Administration’s intent to paint parents who express concerns at school board meetings as domestic terrorists.”
That’s nonsense and Stauber knows it. No one in the administration has used terms like that, at all, or has made any effort to prevent parents from voicing their concerns at school board meetings. The law enforcement response involves actual threats of criminal violence against school board members. We could certainly turn the tables and ask why the Congressman supports violence against public officials?
It isn’t just school board members, after all. The GOP’s fiction surrounding the 2020 election and claims of fraud, has prompted threats against election officials around the country as well. The GOP is playing with fire here. Some people are, eventually, going to get burned.

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