Port: North Dakota school board members are giving up

Dignity and respectful disagreement aren't exactly en vogue in the politics of 2021. These days it's fashionable to get hopped up on hate from some Facebook bubble of similarly outraged people and

A group of parents held signs near Main Street, northwest of the Leidal Education Center before the Monday, April 26, West Fargo School board meeting. Wendy Reuer/Pioneer
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MINOT, N.D. — Across our sports-obsessed society, the grownups who make youth sports possible — the coaches and the referees who are rarely paid much if they're paid at all — are quitting.

They've had it.

They're fed up.

It's not the kids; it's the parents.

I don't have to explain this to you. You've seen it, as I did when I took my daughter to her first game of sixth-grade basketball only to be confronted by moms in the stands screaming abuse at harried referees while dads paced the sideline shouting commands to their kids that drowned out what the poor flustered volunteer coach was trying to say when they weren't contradicting her.



  • Port: 'We need to renounce the conspiracy theorists and the truth deniers' "No man, no woman, no matter what office they've held or wealth they've acquired, are worthy of blind faith or obedience," former Gov. Chris Christie said in a recent speech. "We deserve much better than to be misled by those trying to acquire or hold on to power."

  • Port: Insured unemployed rate is lowest in states that ended expanded benefits early The mistake liberals make is in believing that making Americans dependent on government policies for economic advancement is helping them. The mistake conservatives make is believing that those who struggle to climb the economic ladder are lazy malingerers who don't want to work. Each of these is a deeply flawed point of view.

  • Port: With his approval polls sagging, Biden changes the subject by declaring war on the unvaccinated We already have a crisis of trust in this country. Now we're going to dump gas on that fire by forcing needles into the arms of tens of millions of Americans?

Youth sports too often become an embarrassing spectacle of uncouth adult behavior.
That's the lens through which I saw a recent Praire Public report about school board members in North Dakota calling it quits in the face of unceasing acrimony from the public.

"They've been asked to do a lot in the past 18 months," Alexis Baxley , director of the North Dakota School Boards Association , told reporter Dave Thompson. "No matter which decisions they've made, the criticisms and the controversies surrounding those decisions is never-ending. So a lot of them are pivoting, and dedicating their time back to their families or other issues."

Can you blame these people?

A Fargo Police officer sits by during the Fargo Public School Board meeting on Tuesday, Aug. 10, 2021.jpg
A Fargo Police officer sits by during the Fargo Public School Board meeting on Tuesday, Aug. 10, 2021. C.S. Hagen / The Forum

Can you imagine what their gig has been like?

Choose not to mask, and you earn the invective of one faction. Choose to mask, and you're in the crosshairs of another.


Try to mix and match and give everyone their choice? You've invited a blast from both barrels.

There's no winning.

Serving on something like a school board is trying and time-consuming at the best of times, and it's always prone to controversy. Past debates about prayer in school, or the teaching of evolution, were as fraught as anything we're facing today.

But today is worse.

The pandemic, and our political atmosphere, which has driven not insignificant numbers of the electorate, wherever they land on the ideological spectrum, more than a little crazy, has made the job unendurable for some.

Confront some member of the angry mobs descending on board meetings, and they'd probably justify their behavior with a lot of hot air about holding big government accountable.

Only, this isn't big government.


Parents cheer with joy, shout in anger as Moorhead Area Public Schools approves new mask mandate
Clay County Republican chairman Edwin Hahn holds up a sign ahead of the board's vote at a Moorhead school board meeting Monday, Aug. 23, 2021. (WDAY)

School boards and city commissions are about as small as government gets. The people who serve on them are your neighbors, and they sure as heck aren't making a living doing it. They felt called to serve their communities, and while they're human beings as capable of being intransigent or arrogant or incompetent as any one of us, is the proper response from us, the public, to carry on like some overwrought dad pacing the sidelines drunk on dreams that his sixth-grader might play professionally one day if only you shout the right things?

Dignity and respectful disagreement aren't exactly en vogue in the politics of 2021. These days it's fashionable to get hopped up on hate from some Facebook bubble of similarly outraged people and then spew bile at elected officials and bureaucrats and checkout clerks and other people who are, generally, just trying to do a job.

Believe it or not, the talent pool among the people who are willing to serve on local boards and commissions can be alarmingly small at times. If social rancor is driving good people from these positions, that pool grows smaller, and we should all be worried about who will be left to govern in their place.

The worst thing about all of this, though?

Our kids have been watching.

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Rob Port, founder of, is a Forum Communications commentator. Reach him on Twitter at @robport or via email at .

Opinion by Rob Port
Rob Port is a news reporter, columnist, and podcast host for the Forum News Service. He has an extensive background in investigations and public records. He has covered political events in North Dakota and the upper Midwest for two decades. Reach him at Click here to subscribe to his Plain Talk podcast.
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