Martin County School Board member learns that tattling on teachers isn't cool | Opinion

Election results don't always mean what people think they mean.

I'm guessing Martin County School Board member Christia Li Roberts has a better understanding of that following a pair of ill-fated posts she made on the Stuart Moms Facebook page Thanksgiving week.

In her initial post, Roberts seemed to be asking the page's 18,000-plus members to squeal on teachers who showed students films as opposed to sticking to traditional classroom lectures during the shortened holiday week.

"The intent of the Martin County School District is for high quality instruction," she wrote in a Nov. 23 post. "If your child's class watched a movie for entertainment this week, please COMMENT with the following: School, Grade Level, Regular Teacher or Substitute (teacher name not necessary). Thanks"

At the bottom of the text was an icon featuring a movie reel, a director's clapperboard, tickets, and popcorn.

A show was indeed about to begin, but it didn't unfold the way Roberts may have anticipated.

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Martin County School Board member Christia Li Roberts listens to a public commenter who supports the board proclaiming October as LGBTQ+ History Month during a meeting Tuesday, Oct. 6, 2020, in Stuart. Previously, Roberts suggested a proclamation that would recognize a multitude of students and concerns every month to avoid singling out one group of students.
Martin County School Board member Christia Li Roberts listens to a public commenter who supports the board proclaiming October as LGBTQ+ History Month during a meeting Tuesday, Oct. 6, 2020, in Stuart. Previously, Roberts suggested a proclamation that would recognize a multitude of students and concerns every month to avoid singling out one group of students.

Hundreds of people responded. But instead of complaining about teachers, most defended them. Within a few hours, there were so many comments chastising Roberts she took down her original post and replaced it with a mea culpa of sorts.

"My apologies for this morning's post," the new entry read. "It was not intended as it may have been perceived. I appreciate all of our teachers and staff. Happy Thanksgiving."

That post included a meme with the well-known axiom: "To err is human, to forgive divine."

Commenters apparently weren't in a forgiving mood, as they continued to heap criticism on the original post and defend the teaching profession. Roberts eventually had her second post removed as well.

All in all, there hasn't been a Thanksgiving week PR blunder that bad since the infamous (and fictitious) "WKRP in Cincinnati" television episode where the radio station dropped live turkeys from a helicopter.

I tried reaching out to Roberts about a possible interview, but instead I got a statement from Jennifer DeShazo, the school district's public information and community relations director, on her behalf.

"I never cease to be amazed by the dedication, professionalism and sheer talent displayed by our outstanding educators," Roberts said in the emailed statement. "At no point was it my intent to offend or create upset feelings amongst our teachers or supportive community. I humbly ask for forgiveness from all who were offended or troubled by my posts.

"In this season of gratitude and reflection, I am grateful for our Martin County community that has graciously allowed me to pursue my passion for public service in the school district that is so near and dear to my heart. I will continue to learn from this experience, and I thank everyone who has taken the time to express their gratitude for our most-deserving teachers."

Guest reader Christia Li Roberts of the Martin County School Board at Pajama Jam to benefit The Language & Literacy Connection.
Guest reader Christia Li Roberts of the Martin County School Board at Pajama Jam to benefit The Language & Literacy Connection.

Had she agreed to an interview, my first question to Roberts was going to be why she chose the Stuart Moms page as a forum for her inquiry. As a school board member, Roberts could have simply asked the district's superintendent to gather the information she wanted from principals without all the political fallout.

However, based on this year's election results, it's somewhat understandable if Roberts misread the political tea leaves.

In the August election, Martin County voters elected new school board members Amy Pritchett and Jen Russell.

Pritchett was the local co-chair of Moms for Liberty, a grassroots group that made its political bones championing parental rights in education.

Russell was endorsed by Gov. Ron DeSantis, who has elevated himself into a potential presidential candidate by supporting parental rights and opposing the teaching of "critical race theory" and sexual education in lower grades of elementary school.

Given the current political climate, it's not much of a leap in logic to think demonizing teachers could be a winning political strategy.

One teacher I spoke with over the weekend said it's already happening, with disturbing frequency, in numerous states across the country. She said it's become trendy to make teachers scapegoats for all the shortcomings within our educational system.

Here is where I think Roberts may have miscalculated.

I totally understand why some parents would prefer to be the ones teaching their own children, especially younger children, about matters pertaining to sex.

And I can see why parents have concerns about critical race theory, particularly if one of the goals is to make children feel guilty about past racial injustices that had nothing to do with them.

Yet it's possible to be engaged and concerned about your child's education without assuming teachers are all ne'er-do-wells who are disinterested in or incapable of providing quality instruction.

Most sane people recognize the work teachers do is invaluable. Society simply couldn't function without them.

TCPalm columnist Blake Fontenay
TCPalm columnist Blake Fontenay

If a few of them did show movies in the waning days before Thanksgiving break, so what? Some movies actually do have educational value. And with many families getting early starts on their holiday travel, absenteeism can run high on those last school days before the break, meaning lecture material would need to be made up later, anyway.

Also, let's not pretend many adults don't start ramping down their efforts at work as the holidays approach. Should kids' noses still be stuck to the grindstone while their parents are enjoying holiday parties in the company break room?

In her statement to me, Roberts said she will treat this as a learning experience. I hope she does.

This case illustrates some of the best teachable moments occur outside formal lecture settings.

This column reflects the opinion of Blake Fontenay. Contact him via email at blake.fontenay@tcpalm.com or at 772-232-5424.

This article originally appeared on Treasure Coast Newspapers: 'War on teachers' isn't a thing - yet - in Martin County | Opinion