CLEVELAND — For the last 18 months, school boards across the country have been under siege as members tried to navigate through the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
Instances of violence and threats to board members were so alarming and pervasive, a request for help was sent to the U.S. Department of Justice.
Despite that, scores of people ran for seats on school boards this year.
"I think there's a little bit of a fire in my belly," said Lora Cover. "And at no point was I like 'I'm not sure I should do this.'"
Cover was newly elected to the Shaker Heights School Board in November. She was one of the 140 candidates running for 83 open seats for school boards across Cuyahoga County in 2021. She is a career education professional who has worked in the classroom as a teacher and outside as a recruiter. Cover also has children in the Shaker Heights district.
"Anything can come up in the next board meeting. You never know," she said when asked about public comment in these meetings, a traditionally contentious part of meetings of elected officials that has become more fraught during the pandemic.
Cover said, for the most part, Shaker Heights has avoided raucous meetings.
"You're up on the school board, you're sitting at that desk, they're the ones - they're yelling at you," said Anothny Akins.
Akins is another parent-turned-boardmember. He also ran during the 2021 election cycle for a spot on the Bedford City School Board. He is an alumnus of the district and now sends his children there. For Akins, the increased attention to what decisions boards make are jumping-off points.
"Honestly, that can be looked at as a good thing as well because you're getting more residents that are coming from school board meetings," he said. He is prepared for more involvement from parents and guardians.
"I would like to just be a person - a parent - on the school board to say during school board meetings 'this is what we can do. This is what we can't do,'" he said.
Both Cover and Akins see the national conversation about school boards, their reach and their purpose has changed the shape of how they'll operate in the future.
"I think the pandemic has really pushed things faster," Cover said. "I think one way or another, things are going to have to shift pretty dramatically one way or the other over the next decade."