Why no public anger about Franklin schools

Published 11:15 am Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Earlier this year, when a group of concerned citizens banded together to voice their complaints over what they perceived to be extremely high utility bills, they made their feelings publicly known. Group members filled city hall and signed up to speak during council meetings. They called local television stations and organized protests. They wrote letters to the editor of this newspaper and made it very clear that they were unhappy and wanted some action taken. And while it remains unclear at best if their complaints were valid, that group of citizens got the city’s attention in a hurry, and city council took action.

In September, The Tidewater News reported that the Virginia Department of Education had completed numerous audits and investigations, revealing division-level failures that contributed to the poor performance of Franklin’s schools (“VDOE cites Franklin division for several standard violations,” Cain Madden, Sept. 15, 2013). Numerous follow-up stories and reports in this newspaper provided additional evidence to support the state’s assertions. Many speculated that the public reaction would be loud and swift.

To date, it has been neither.

The Franklin School Board met on Thursday, Sept. 19, just days after The Tidewater News’ initial report that the school system was in violation of several state codes. Yet despite all of the hand wringing and criticism over the system’s abysmal performance of the past several years, the only person who spoke during the citizen’s time portion of the meeting was a school employee. Not one concerned citizen rose to ask questions. Not one parent who is worried that their child attends an underperforming school. Not one community leader who knows how important a thriving school system is to the future wellbeing of this community.

Not one.

So it begs some questions. Why will a handful of residents concerned about high heating bills raise hell, but a city that claims to be up in arms about one of the worst school systems in the state hardly make a peep? Is the real problem with our schools poor central office and school board leadership, or a citizenry too apathetic to do anything about it?