Stress of pandemic, parents’ vitriol has more education leaders consider leaving field

Michigan reported 9,137 new cases of COVID-19 and 36 virus-related deaths Monday

More superintendents calling it quits as pandemic continues

DETROIT – The path to the office of superintendent for any public school district is generally paved by a love of children and a respect for the need for free, accurate and accessible education.

It usually starts as a teacher, then a principal, and that call to the top office of a district.

For Jeff Wright, 60, after decades as an educator, the past four at a small school district in central Michigan, the call he looked to most was the call to his financial advisor regarding retirement.

After epically rude and disruptive board meetings, threats, slurs, wild behavior from parents over mask mandates, whether or not to recognize the actual and real existence of a deadly pandemic, and just plain bad behavior, Wright winces when he repeats the things parents said to him.

He told Local 4 News parents asked whether he even cared about children and made claims that the leader was not doing the right thing for them.

Tracking COVID outbreaks in Michigan schools, colleges

Wright said goodbye to the Pewamo-Westphalia Community Schools district located 35 miles northwest of Lansing and its 600 children, so that he could do absolutely anything else. And herein lies the road ahead for education in the United States, according to polling done by the National Superintendents Roundtable, which is the professional organization for the nation’s top educators.

Dr. James Harvey, the executive director of the National Superintendents Roundtable, said that with more than two-thirds of top local educators teetering on the edge of quitting, this signals a dangerous bellwether for our nation’s schools.

“This group that is opposed to vaccinations and masks is making life difficult for superintendents,” said Harvey.

The threats being reported by top school administrators laced with political rhetoric and ideology are severe.

“A superintendent was followed home by a deranged individual who threatened him. Another told us that the local police were meeting with the superintendent to develop a protection plan and the superintendent has been diagnosed with PTSD,” said Dr. Harvey.

This creates a clear and very present danger not just to education.

“People do not know what is going to happen to this country if democracy goes under and the schools are a fundamental part of that,” said Harvey.

Michigan reported 9,137 new cases of COVID-19 and 36 virus-related deaths Monday -- an average of 3,045.7 cases over a three-day period.

Michigan COVID: Here’s what to know Oct. 12, 2021

About the Authors:

Paula Tutman is an Emmy award-winning journalist who came to Local 4 in 1992. She's a Peace Corps alum who spent her early childhood living in Sierra Leone, West Africa and Tanzania and East Africa.

Natasha Dado is a digital content producer for ClickOnDetroit.