© 2024 Ideastream Public Media

1375 Euclid Avenue, Cleveland, Ohio 44115
(216) 916-6100 | (877) 399-3307

WKSU is a public media service licensed to Kent State University and operated by Ideastream Public Media.
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Sound of Ideas Community Tour | Northeast Ohio school board members discuss rising polarization

A seated crowd at the Hudson Library and Historical Society listens to the "Sound of Ideas Community Tour" conversation.
Anna Garvin
Ideastream Public Media
An audience of engaged community members attended the recent "Sound of Ideas Community Tour" event at the Hudson Library and Historical Society on Dec. 12.

Contention over what’s being taught in the classroom isn’t anything new. You can go back to the Scopes trial to see a state, Tennessee, that banned the teaching of evolution and a teacher, John Scopes, who defied that ban. There was also ugliness at school board meetings at the dawn of the Civil Rights Movement, and in the 1990s over sex education.

Still, for most of time, school board meetings have been uneventful. Your civic-minded neighbor may have been elected to the local school board, spending all of fifty bucks on the campaign. You yourself may have gone to plenty of parent-teacher conferences, but never a school board meeting.

Lately, there are regular headlines about calls for book bans, arguments about curricula and public meetings that are packed with people who are much more partisan, ideological, polarized and sometimes just downright nasty.

This new wave may have been sparked by Covid-19 pandemic policies, but it persists now to include which books should be available to students, LGBTQ+ student rights and the teaching of slavery and the impact of systemic racism in America. The driving force, articulated by those protesting what is happening in our schools, is parental rights.

Disorderly conduct and threats against school board members are on the rise. A ProPublica investigation found 90 incidents in 30 states since May 2021. At least 59 people were arrested or charged for unrest during school board meetings from May 2021 to November 2022.

Calls for book bans are commonplace now, too. The American Library Association reported nearly 700 challenges in the first eight months of 2023, which is an all time high. PEN America, a free speech advocacy organization, found more than 3,000 instances of book bans in public schools and libraries from last June 2022 to June of 2023.

Locally, parents in Chagrin Falls and North Royalton have raised concerns over their fear of critical race theory being taught in schools. And two years ago, a book being used in a Hudson high school that included controversial writing prompts about sex, led former Hudson Mayor Craig Shubert to call on school board members to resign or possibly face criminal charges.

On a statewide level, the Ohio school board has been stripped of most of its power, which now rests with a new department of education under control of the governor.

On the latest stop of the “Sound of Ideas Community Tour,” we'll hear a discussion of what has led to the recent rise in contentious school board meetings. We’ll hear from experts who focus on education, school boards, and the role they play. We’ll also hear from current and former school board members, including some who just ran for board seats in this recent November election.

- Gwen Bryant, Educator and Education Advisor
- James Field, Board Member, Hudson Board of Education
- Vladimir Kogan, Director of Undergraduate Studies & Professor, The Ohio State University
- Jackie Arendt - Board Member, North Royalton Board of Education
- Conor Morris, Education Reporter, Ideastream Public Media

Drew Maziasz is a coordinating producer for the "Sound of Ideas" and also serves as the show’s technical producer.