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ST. LOUIS (KTVI)- School boards in the region face another round of votes this week, as many are in the process of deciding if their move to have schools become mask-optional get rolled back. Francis Howell voted to temporarily require masks on Friday, and the Rockwood and Parkway School Boards have votes this week as well.

It’s another decision facing school board members as the pandemic has now impacted the past three school years. In several of the region’s largest school districts, including Rockwood, Fort Zumwalt and Parkway, both incumbents have decided against running for new terms.

In some cases, members’ children have graduated from their district, or there are new projects to focus on. Others have decided it was just time for them to pass the baton off to someone else.

Thomas Emmons raised controversy when he moved to Florida in June, but has continued to serve on the Fort Zumwalt Board and will do so through the end of his term in April. He told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch last fall that he has flown back to the district for meetings.

On Saturday, Emmons told FOX2 that his job took him to Florida but that it wasn’t the only thing that factored into his decision not to run again. He shared screengrabs of social media comments made about him, and a Tik-Tok video that describes some of the vitriol facing school board members in general.

“We are the last of the board members that didn’t choose to be a part of the Covid back and forth. 
I joined our board to help children that were being bullied in classrooms and teachers that deserve to have their salaries aligned. Over the last two years all attempts by any board to further education has been more or less ended as we have become the focal point of an angry nation,” he said in an email. “Education is downstream from society and culture. We’ll need to repair that before reason can return and activism be pushed away.”

Parkway school board member Pam Hill also described what went into her decision, even if it wasn’t entirely pandemic-related.

“I never expected being on a school board to be an easy job, and I welcomed being involved in tough decisions for the school district. But the past couple years have been exceedingly difficult for so many different reasons, and there came a time that I knew I had to look for other ways to serve my community in order to be able to put myself and my family first. I fully plan on staying active in the school district and in the community, just in different ways. I still believe that public education is one of the most important aspects of our society,” she wrote.

Mehlville’s Kevin Schartner told FOX2 that two terms was his original plan when he first ran for the board there in 2016. His youngest child will graduate this spring. Here’s what he wrote when asked how dealing with constituents has changed from his first term to the second, and advice he’d have for those who succeed him.

“The primary change I have seen in communication among district stakeholders is we went from an environment where a large majority of people believed we were all acting in good faith for the good of our students and community, to the current environment where a number of people believe others are intentionally acting against them. We are seeing this play out on a national stage and the same factors are at work in local communities. The great majority of people I work with are just as cordial and focused on solving problems as they were before the pandemic. A very small number have decided a more aggressive approach is right for them. From a board member perspective, this does not change how I approach or communicate with people. We need to understand the full range of viewpoints our stakeholders have in order to make decisions that most benefit our students, families and community.

The advice I would give new board members are these points.

1.       Listen to everyone, put in the time to research the facts, and make decisions based on what you believe is right.

2.       Don’t be swayed by people who attempt to gaslight or pressure you into making their decision.

3.       Only take criticism from someone you would take advice from. “