In the first week of July, Columbus Academy rescinded enrollment contracts for three students, not for the students' actions but those of their parents, who had spread misinformation in order to instigate an uprising among other parents over the school's anti-racist curriculum efforts. This kind of boundary setting will be a signature part of heads' work next year: the distinction between home and school, vaccine requirement, the reflection of the school's mission and values in the curriculum and policies, protecting the faculty's time and workload. It will be difficult work that will require close board/head alignment. There will be scores of devils dodging about in the details, often the kind that require legal counsel, but the heads and their schools that attend to boundary setting will be made stronger for it. Heads and boards who try to hedge on this work will weaken their schools and spend the year tap-dancing equivocation and dodging crossfire.
To a degree, the work heads and boards did last summer has readied them for this moment. Rapidly evolving information about the pandemic forced school leaders out of their default consensus building patterns into what surely felt like unilateral decision making. This year, rather than measuring classrooms and air return rates, heads and boards will immerse themselves in the legal and cultural ramifications of these firm stances. Requiring all employees to be vaccinated, for instance, a supremely rational and morally sound policy, cascades into a long series of practical decisions--what exemptions does your state allow and how do they mesh with employment law, what compromises are you willing to make to retain employees who, for whatever reason, cannot (or will not) receive the vaccine?--and their cultural contrail among students, parents and colleagues. Likewise, bad faith actors like the Columbus Academy parents, cannot remain part of a community committed to shared values. Nor can creeping initiatives be allowed to devastate an exhausted faculty. Like a vaccination policy for employees (perhaps even for students if some states list the COVID vaccine as a school requirement), the right stance is clear. The challenge is in managing the outcome.