Opinion: Stand up for our schools, community

May 12, 2023

To the editor:

I am writing this letter as we approach the upcoming School Committee Elections in Rochester on May 24, to encourage my fellow residents to stand up for our schools and our community. I can not overstate the importance of a free and fair public education, kindness, and respect for human rights, and diversity. These things are on the chopping block this election cycle.

There are candidates, who on the surface, present with “grave” concern about the safety of our children and families, and promote parent rights and excellence in education. Underneath they are launching a hateful and divisive campaign, to destroy the very fabric of public education, school professional integrity, and human (parent and student) rights. Their campaign includes book banning, public social media posts defaming LGBTQ students and their families, attacking school professionals and their teaching practices, promoting the idea that our white students need greater rights, and fabrication of stories about students feeling fearful about bathroom usage because of trans students. One candidate even displays a flag denouncing our president using foul language (FJB). These are hardly models for our students or our community.

We need school committee members who can address the real needs of our students and the ways in which we can best support their development as happy, respectful, and successful individuals. The real issues and challenges are how we might best; promote the development of healthy social-emotional and personal coping skills and self-esteem; provide the necessary academic supports to students with multiple and complex learning needs; providing essential resources to students and their families with mental health challenges; and supporting cultural, racial, and gender diversity. The overall goal, I believe, is to help students to become the best version of themselves, as successful, respectful, and kind individuals. Students are, and always have been, exploring ways in which they fit in personally, academically, and socially. That is in fact the task of being young, discovering who, what, or where you might want to be in life. It is our job to support and guide this journey, not to impose our own bias or judgment. If these candidates are uncomfortable in our beautiful, complicated and diverse world, our public school system has no place for them, in my opinion.

As we approach the School Committee Elections on May 24, in Rochester, I hope that you will be thoughtful about your choices and join me in voting for the candidates who are approaching this demanding and important task in good faith. They have the genuine desire to work collaboratively with ALL students and faculty, in addressing the real and vital issues that the school system faces; in an effort to maintain and build upon its excellence.

Debra Tolstonog, Rochester