In February, a member of the Douglas County Board of Education received a ticket for illegally passing a school bus, which was stopped, lights flashing, to either drop off or pick up children (Douglas County Sentinel, March 19th 2017). The BoE member, through his lawyer, expressed regret, saying that the misdemeanor crime was committed “inadvertently.” Given that the road on which this happened has four lanes with a turn lane, I think he deserves the benefit of the doubt; I can see this happening to the best of us. But this incident is pregnant with deeper meaning. I hope our school system’s leaders will recognize the symbolic significance of this event and learn from it.
Why is passing a stopped school bus not only illegal but wrong? Negligent drivers risk the well-being of students coming off a bus in their haste to reach a particular destination. We recognize instinctively that the few seconds that the driver saves on his commute time are not even comparable to the risk of putting children’s safety in danger. When a driver does this, we are rightly aghast that he would judge this risk to be worth a few seconds of his time. The crime is especially galling when committed by someone whose public duty is to ensure that our children’s well-being is the top priority of the school system.
Knowing why this behavior is wrong allows us to see in it a poignant analogy for other wrongs in the school system. On its way to reach such worthy destinations as high graduation rates and increased participation in AP courses, the school system has risked the well-being of our children by pursuing them in a hasty, careless manner. Serious long-term risks to our children’s futures have been taken for the sake of short-term benefits to the adult drivers.
These goals have been achieved by expedient methods such as as cheating in online credit recovery courses and aggressively recruiting students who are not yet proficient in high school level work into what are supposed to be college-level courses (AP). The result of this careless haste is to weaken the integrity and thus value of a high school diploma, and to impede achievement in AP courses by lowering academic standards to accommodate unprepared students. Consequently, many graduates are ill-prepared to succeed in college or lack the job skills needed for a productive career.
I don’t believe that the BoE member in this case consciously thought, “I don’t care about these children; I just want to get to where I am going as fast as possible.” This wasn’t an act of malice; it was an act of neglect. Similarly, our school system’s leaders are not callous towards children’s well-being, but there has been negligence in considering carefully the long-term consequences of their means and methods. The ends of high graduation rates and high participation on AP courses do not justify the means of attaining them.
Our school system needs to slow down and pay more attention to how the shortcuts they have taken to reach these goals are putting our children’s futures at risk.