An important audience is likely watching the turmoil at the Ontario School District: students. This is a chance for adults to serve up one of the most important lessons of the year. Let’s be sure students get the right lesson.

Temperatures are running hot across Ontario. Administrators at the Ontario School District have fired twin political torpedoes, hoping to sink two school board members. The school board has largely stayed quiet, struggling to figure its role.

The school board last week decided to hire a lawyer to sort it out. It’s a bit unclear what a Portland law firm is going to do to make Ontario schools run better. The starting place is likely to be the 26-page complaint sent to the board a month ago.

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There’s one lesson right there. The letter purports to represent the views of 14 of 18 school administrators. Not one had the courage to sign the document. That’s lousy. If professionals are going to accuse school board members of what could be illegal conduct, they should back up their claims with the credibility of their own names. Hiding behind anonymity teaches students that you can fire off accusations with devastating effect from behind the curtain. That’s not a lesson in moral courage.

Reading the complaint closely, most of its alleged transgressions target one administrator – Jodi Elizondo, the Ontario High School principal. Yet Elizondo won’t say a word about her role in the document, though it recounts meetings and provides documentation that seem to come directly from her. If Elizondo had concerns, standing clear of any responsibility for making allegations isn’t a good lesson for students. In this country, you speak up for what you believe in.

On the other side, the focus is on Derrick Draper, a school board member. If emails disclosed so far are authentic, Draper has much to learn about effective public service. The fact he was banned in the past from Four Rivers Community School for his aggressive behavior tends to support characterizations that Draper can be a bully. That’s not a good lesson for students either. Puffing up and pushing people around is no way to get issues addressed. The world is already too full of bullying, and Draper ought to understand his behavior becomes a model for hundreds of students.

A massive legal fight and investigation seems destined to make matters worse. Folks on both sides will feel compelled to back various claims and viewpoints. This is quickly becoming too much about individuals and not nearly enough about students and the schools. Clearly, the Ontario School District is in for a rocky patch. Just as clearly, adults in the community who truly believe in the primary mission – of helping every one of 2,600 kids succeed – need to restore the proper focus.

A lot isn’t known by the community, and that just feeds speculation. The competing views leave students in the middle. Who do they believe? Who do they trust? Who do they follow? Snarling adults bent on proving their points can’t be the answer. Everyone – everyone – needs to take a deep breath, dial back the rhetoric, and help assess what are true issues in the Ontario School District that impede or impair what kids are learning in the classroom. – LZ

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