By David M. Greenwald
Davis, CA – In case you missed it last week, the district has decided not to pursue a permanent restraining order against Beth Bourne. The district didn’t want to go on the record (despite several attempts by me to get them to do so), but I think the rationale here is pretty clear.
We have to look at the context in which the TRO was filed—six bomb threats, massive disruption to students and staff and at least veiled threats to teachers and district personnel that they would be outed or doxed on social media.
What changed is also pretty clear—the bomb threats stopped. The district recognized that under the best of circumstances that this would be a tall order—and frankly it should be. Curtailing free speech has to have a very high threshold. The Supreme Court at one point called for a “clear and present danger” that speech gets translated into violent action in order to justify such intrusions—and while you *might* have been able to make that claim in October, doing it now seems like a stretch.
I want to be clear about something—I do not believe that Beth Bourne was directly responsible for the bomb threats or connected to them in any direct sense, but the situation was volatile and she clearly played a role, at least in my opinion, of stoking that volatility.
I strongly disagree with those who contend that she did nothing wrong. But I do agree that her mistakes here, at this point, do not warrant criminal prosecution and probably not civil restraint either.
Frankly the school district has other more pressing matters to attend to at this time. To the extent that Bourne raised an issue into the public consciousness, for the most part I believe she probably closed off the possibility of addressing issues that she might consider of utmost importance in the future.
For me, however, despite her claims that this is the most important issue of our time, I think the NY Times editorial on Sunday reminded us that, with respect to our children, the impact of the pandemic and the possibility of a real lost generation outweighs the significance of a small percentage of students who might be inclined to the various issues raised by Bourne and Moms for Liberty.
The Times found: “The evidence is now in, and it is startling. The school closures that took 50 million children out of classrooms at the start of the pandemic may prove to be the most damaging disruption in the history of American education.”
They added, “It also set student progress in math and reading back by two decades and widened the achievement gap that separates poor and wealthy children.”
The point of my raising this is not to re-litigate the decision to close schools for an extended period in 2020 and 2021. In hindsight, that may well have been a mistake, but part of that assessment is based on how much we have been able to learn about preventing the spread of COVID that we didn’t know in March 2020.
More importantly is trying to figure out how to address that problem.
The good news is that Davis is a high-achieving school district. The bad news is that the achievement gap in Davis is among the highest in the state.
The other bad news is that Davis always lives on the precipice of fiscal calamity. Part of the reason for that is—as we discussed last week—Davis is disadvantaged by current state funding situations that put more money into districts with more disadvantaged children.
The other part of that is that Davis is facing a prolonged period of declining enrollment that figures to further challenge the district’s finances.
At the same time, federal money in the form of $190 billion in aid to schools by Congress—20 percent of which had to be used for reversing learning setback—is set to run out in 2024.
As the NY Times put it: “These learning losses will remain unaddressed when the federal money runs out in 2024. Economists are predicting that this generation, with such a significant educational gap, will experience diminished lifetime earnings and become a significant drag on the economy.”
They argue that “education administrators and elected officials who should be mobilizing the country against this threat are not.”
This is the educational threat of our children’s lifetime at the most critical phase which will make or break their career and life paths and, yet, we have been diverted away from addressing this problem by a whole host of other issues.
This is a true threat and the people most at risk are those students of color who were already disadvantaged in one of the best school districts in the state. Time is short and we need to focus on the problem at hand.