As tensions built, plenty of off ramps were missed.
Tone deaf. From beginning to end, or at least what looks like the end at this moment.
It all started with claims that a teacher in the School District of Beloit had taped a mask to a student’s face. Some media outlets ran away with the story, apparently without proper vetting or fact-checking. Social media blew up, as it usually does, fueling nasty and mean-spirited reactiveness. When police investigated, as they certainly should have, the situation was too murky to support any notion that criminal charges might be supported.
Case closed? Hardly. Not how it works in this age of social media warriors.
The student’s parents were not satisfied, and that is their right. No argument.
Others did what people do on social media—pile on, whether they know anything or not. Facts often become subordinate to emotions. Anger overwhelms reason. And, it can all lead to overheated rhetoric and fear of violence.
Superintendent Dan Keyser spoke out against hate speech and threatening remarks. He’s right but, predictably, that had little effect.
So when a public protest was planned for Friday, school authorities ordered the system to shut down. A few people showed up carrying signs at the district headquarters. They were exercising their First Amendment right of assembly, not sowing seeds of riotous behavior.
Why any of that—even before the gathering turned out to be small and manageable—justified shutting down the entire district, is highly questionable.
First, the teacher started this tone deaf incident by going anywhere near a kid with a mask and tape. Like it or not, mask policies can be controversial. Taking the teacher’s word that no harm was intended and it was some kind of joke, nobody’s laughing.
The “trust us” nature of the investigation was also tone deaf. When people are upset the way to ease tension is to be more, not less, forthcoming.
Shutting down the school system absolutely was tone deaf. Precautions can be taken without disrupting the entire community.
Likewise, some media coverage was irresponsible and, yes, tone deaf. Whipping up resentments without proper context is a bad look for any so-called news organization. In fact, that’s exactly what social media does at its worst, by amplifying lack of knowledge and churning the grievance machine.
Could it all have been avoided? Who knows?
But, maybe, if the teacher had been more conscious of sensitivities, and the district had been quicker to deal decisively with tensions, and authorities had been more willing to answer questions and engage the issues, matters might have been handled with less disruption.
All of us, though, should think about what this says about where society is these days. Namely, quick and eager to go at each other’s throats.
Yes, this matter could have been handled better.
On the other hand, each of us has a responsibility to turn down the temperature before emotions explode and really bad things happen.