Misguided short-term thinking poisons school board election


Credit to Pleasant Valley Community School District

The upcoming Nov. 2 school board race has become divisive and contested, with certain candidates running primarily on their position on banning mask mandates.

Vinay Joshi, Business Manager

The upcoming Nov. 2 election for three spots on PV’s school board has been unusually contested and competitive, reflecting an utter misunderstanding of a school board’s purpose.

One key question dominates the election: to mask or not to mask? Many of the six candidates have made the question of mandatory mask-wearing their flagship stance, letting it dictate their entire campaign. The issue of mandating mask-wearing has been deeply divisive in the PV community, largely stemming from a May 2021 school board vote to uphold PV’s mask mandate (voted 4-3 in favor of upholding it). 

Currently, PV remains undecided about resuming a mask mandate following a Sep. 13 ruling from a federal judge lifting Iowa’s mask mandate ban. Right now, masks are optional at PV. However, this indecision on a mask mandate has been a naive driving force in many school board candidate campaigns.

Senior Sidney Brockmann believes that the increased attention given to this school board race is due to the impacts of COVID-19. “I think the attention to the school board has increased substantially in the past couple years due to the pandemic and all of the problems it has created,” she said. 

COVID-19 has certainly opened a can of worms when it comes to conflicting ideas on mandating vaccines, masks and the general handling of the pandemic in schools, heightening the buzz for the first school board race since COVID-19 emerged.

However, vying for a position with a four-year term purely rooted in the issue of masks is superficial and shows a lack of understanding about what the role of a school board is. 

 “What I think most people don’t seem to understand is that school boards are not meant to deal with individual problems…A school board is meant to look at big picture items,” commented Dr. Nikhil Wagle, president of PV’s school board. 

This means that contrary to the beliefs of some candidates (and voters), issues with teachers, in-class projects and curriculum are not under the purview of the school board. They should be addressed directly to teachers and principals. 

The school board only directly manages one person: Brian Strusz, PV’s superintendent. This means that candidates promising to alter the curriculum to be more textbook based cannot actually accomplish this. Regarding mask mandates, the safety of students is a concern for them, but the school board’s agenda is mostly focused on the future of PV.

One of the most pertinent issues that the board discusses is the rapid growth of the PV district. The board has poured countless hours of research into developing detailed solutions for expanding the size of PV. A key part of this is having to deal with issues of funding new infrastructure. For example, the process of building Forest Grove and the additions to the High School were the first times the PV district had to take out loans to build something.

There are already ideas to expand Forest Grove Elementary and Cody Elementary, as well as adding more towers to the high school should the district’s growth continue at its current rate. “10 years ago we were thinking about Forest Grove [Elementary School]. That was right when Hopewell [Elementary School] opened,” Wagle explained.

COVID-19, and subsequently mask mandates, will almost certainly cease to be a pressing issue throughout the four-year terms that candidates are running for. We must ask ourselves whether we want to elect board members that are deeply invested in the long-term future of PV or, rather, those who have a strong opinion on divisive topics guaranteed to garner support. The reality is school board members do not spend all of their time discussing small, urgent matters, but rather, their role is to make decisions that will keep PV thriving for years to come.