Flaky, internet-fueled theory fuels unseemly disruption at school board meeting | Local News

Most days, only masochists and/or insomniacs would queue up first thing a televised replay of a meeting of the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools Board of Education.

A no-Novocain trip to the dentist, a marathon YouTube session watching corn grow (it’s a real thing), even a rusty fish hook to the eye might sound preferable options most days.

Sexton Column Mug Web (copy)

Winston-Salem Journal Winston-Salem Journal Winston-Salem Journal columnist Scott Sexton

Wednesday morning, however, was not most days.

In case you missed it — be thankful if you did — Jerry Springer, driving a clown car, crashed headlong into the WWE Tuesday evening at a school-board meeting and the result was a surefire, first-ballot entrant into the local Hall of Shame.

Mask mandates in previously sacrosanct halls of learning. The inmates have darn near breached the front gate of the asylum.

Roll the tape. The Big Eye in the Sky doesn’t lie.

Incivility the new normal

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One hour, 47 minutes and 16 seconds of a school-board meeting should, in normal times, focus on student achievement or caring for employees — beleaguered classroom teachers more so than a bloated army of assistants to the associate area superintendents in charge of paper resupply.

But the times are neither normal nor average.

Not that long ago, before politics ruined near everything, the focus of public education — and those poor souls who voluntarily (or naively) decided to serve their communities by taking seats on local school boards — used to be on reading and math.

In those bygone days, the opening to the Springer show might have been called “foreshadowing” in a high-school lit class.

“Before we begin, I’d like to remind everyone that we do have a mask mandate so I would like to ask that you all put your masks on,” said board chairwoman Deanna Kaplan.

Fuse lit, proceed to slow burn.

Just over 44 minutes into a lawfully prescribed public-comment session on the mask mandate, the detonation came in a hail of half-baked legal threats and dim-witted insults — “practicing medicine without a license” and “Communists,” and a warning, “the patriots are coming.”

Tuesday was not most days. But this is where we are.

The meeting, per the video replay, looked (and sounded) like an off, off, off-Broadway copycat of the latest, looney tunes “strategy” sweeping the country called Bonds for the Win.

In a nutshell, an aggrieved fringe seizes upon an inapplicable legal strategy to file “claims” against a school-board over COVID masking policy, transgender rights or any other false affront.

The theory, straight from the Rudy Giuliani School of Law, posits that since a district broke a law, officials would owe parents surety bonds as compensation.

Nevermind that the claims would be tossed in a hot second as frivolous, without standing or not requiring a formal response.

It’s a lot like the sovereign-nation radicals who cite maritime law as a reason not to carry driver’s licenses or file tax returns.

The internet strikes again.

In olden times, alleged adults could dissent without being disagreeable and debate differences without being difficult.

If consensus or middle-ground compromise — remember those? — could not be reached, then organize and express dissatisfaction at the ballot box.

Now, if Tuesday night’s meeting is any indication, the modern playbook has been amended to include incivility, crudeness and base temper tantrums.

Exhibit A, B and C bolstering the circumstantial case that this was a copycat bonds’ claim would be the “man” escorted by security out of the building for throwing a tantrum when he wasn’t allowed to present “papers” to school officials.

“I’ve been in public education for over 30 years, and honestly, everything we do, we are modeling for our children,” Superintendent Tricia McManus said later in the meeting. “The rudeness and the ugliness, I’m pretty appalled.”

Tension in air

According to folks actually in the room Tuesday, the true mood of the crowd was not (and could not) be adequately conveyed via replay.

“I’ve listened back and it doesn’t quite convey how tense it felt when the guy was shouting as they tried to subdue him in the hallway,” one observer wrote Wednesday in a text message.

Remember when we could all look on when yellow-coated security tackled streakers at the Super Bowl and agree that the invader(s) were fringe actors worthy of collective scorn and laughter?

The COVID pandemic, for better or worse, has turned a corner into an endemic — a $1 word which roughly means “We give up. 1 million-plus dead, mostly the elderly, the sick and those too obtuse and/or obstinate to take a vaccine is a price we’re happy to pay.”

The heck of it is, the board voted to join most of the rest of the nation in lifting a mask mandate in a further attempt at restoring a sense of normalcy.

It’s sad, nearly tragic even, that the new normal also now must include unhealthy doses of the Jerry Springer/Morton Downey Jr. mentality egged on by a significant portion of the population who sees the whole show as legitimate political discourse.

Don’t look now, but the clown car has a new driver. The video, sad as it is, should be required viewing in what’s left of civics classes taught in public schools.