Participation Matters

The Fairfield County School District and their governing board of trustees have been the favorite punching bag for the community for many unpleasant years. Whether the topic is the stagnation of industrial and economic development, the crime rate or the poverty level, the finger of blame invariably points first at the Fairfield County School District.

Certainly, some of the past actions of both the District and the Board have made them easy targets. Dropping Advanced Placement courses without state approval, an out of kilter travel budget, personal use of District equipment, a revolving door in the superintendent’s office and their precarious relationship with the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools are just a few of the highlights of recent years that have given the District a less than palatable reputation.

A school district is only as good as its teachers, staff and administration. They, in turn, are only as good as the school board that puts them in place. And the board is only as good as the voters who elect them. But the responsibility of the voters does not begin and end in the voting booth.

True, it takes time and effort, as a member of the public, to be fully engaged in the process. It takes the kind of genuine concern that overrides the fatigue one feels at the end of a long work day and impels one to be involved in meetings and conferences and work sessions; to attend, at least, and at best to participate. Make no mistake about it, the process will go on; and better that it do so with direction from the public it is intended to serve than without it.

Case in point:

The School Board has recently taken up discussion of implementing a school uniform policy at Fairfield Central High School. As part of the process, administration has sought input from parents and sent out 800 letters requesting their presence at a Saturday meeting on the topic earlier this month.

Out of 800 invitations, a grand total of two parents showed enough concern to actually attend the meeting.

Two. Out of 800.

Whether or not mandating school uniforms at the high school level is a good idea is the least troubling thing that can be gleaned from this astonishingly low turnout. What is more apparent is that only a quarter of 1 percent of parents have the time and energy and the overriding concern to be involved in the future of their school district. And it would be easy to view this figure as an anomaly had the District not had similar, although not quite as drastic, results from parent meetings on testing policies.

The District has taken a lot of lumps for its perceived role in the county’s economic and social state of affairs, but perhaps it is only a symptom of a much larger and more horrible disease: Apathy.