School district needs to improve communication, timing

The more we learn about Lebanon School District staffers’ efforts to establish a school-based health center at Lebanon High School, the more we get the feeling that communication – or lack thereof – is a problem.
The fact that a project this significant was in process, at least at the committee-discussion level, for nearly a year before the School Board heard about it, as we’ve learned, is a problem, pure and simple.
Granted, COVID has affected a lot of things negatively, and one of the things that’s been lost in the process has been personal interaction. Having your boss standing on the other side of your desk is a lot different experience than having a phone conversation, even if the outcome is the same. Virtual meetings lack a lot of communication that occurs, naturally, when we’re all in the same room together.
It’s pretty clear from our report on page 1 that there are strong feelings on both sides of this issue.
Proponents note that many children in the Lebanon School District lack the opportunities for medical care that more economically or socially privileged contemporaries might enjoy. We’ve all seen individuals, both children and adults, who clearly lacked medical or dental attention that maybe others of us simply take for granted. There are needs.
But those concerned about what the health clinic would represent also have legitimate qualms, by any standard. Some of those aren’t even things the district could necessarily control. Oregon’s legislators, for instance, have passed laws that literally can keep parents in the dark about what their children are doing to their bodies. That’s a legitimate concern for residents who are concerned about what could happen to their children within school walls.
We don’t doubt that district staff have good intentions in bringing this to the School Board. But they apparently haven’t given due consideration to the fact that had the potential to create – and certainly has created – a red-flag issue for some local residents (people who vote).
Again, timing and communication are some of the biggest issues here.
Typically, in public and private corporations, administrators will apprise board or council or commission members of big things that are coming up. As former Board Member Todd Gestrin notes in our report, “you don’t just surprise everyone.”
As this thing potentially heats up, it would behoove district staffers to get these things out in the open, if nothing else to avoid all appearances of secrecy. Secrecy doesn’t play well in the public arena.
Also, if this thing heats up, we would all be well-advised to keep in mind that School Board members, while ultimately the ones who will make the call on this and other proposals from staff, are simply volunteers who have run for the office because they are interested in making Lebanon schools the best they can be, helping kids, representing their and other parents’ interests, etc.
Many school board members put in hours, for which they don’t really get paid, to do their jobs.
We point this out because rancor with these elected individuals, which could very well attend any debate over this issue, isn’t going to go far in achieving the ends of those who have thoughts to share. COVID and other factors have us all in testy moods, and we have to remember that honest, civil discussion will be the best way to reach a well-thought-out, hopefully universally acceptable final product.
We note that in this month’s School Board meeting, on Feb. 10, members of the public who had things to say were very civil. Great job!