The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA


April 1, 2014

George Hancock | Berlin, school board a study in compromise

JOHNSTOWN — Civility, tolerance, even respect, are relegated to the sidelines these days. Once upon a time, we welcomed, we debated, divergent views. Many folks forget, perhaps intentionally, that our government was founded upon compromise.

These days, many have strong beliefs. Individuals are passionate about their causes. Relentless research evolves into an informed opinion. Individuals are vocal about their cherished views.

Many are well financed. Many are skilled in social media. Many use political strategists to expound their points. Various advertising techniques are utilized to mainstream their agenda.

Others resort to modern-day bullying. The news media and social media are used to hammer the public with their views. A barrage of talking points coupled with ready cash sways the unsuspecting public. Words and phrases are twisted to promote or further the cause. A bewildered public is left to decipher what just happened.

Unfortunately, many of these proponents are not happy simply expressing their opinions. Many are skilled in various legal techniques. The legal system is used to entrench the tenets of these organizations.

Some organizations even resort to changing the rules to suit the cause. Gerrymandering is an excellent example. Some political parties have successfully redrawn districts in a manner that ensures victory until the next census. These political factions engaged in intense research. They discover methods that withstand court challenges. Despite the point, redrawn districts isolate neighbors with common bonds and concerns.

Municipalities are challenged when well-financed, vocal alliances confront them. Most municipalities are cash strapped. Local governments have solicitors but lack resources for extended legal disputes. Often, those wrapped in a particular ideology win.   

Sometimes change is wrought simply by asking a question: “Excuse me, I believe there’s a problem. May we do this to eliminate a troubling issue?” Protracted legal maneuvers are avoided. The issue is resolved. Or is it?

The Berlin Brothersvalley School District was recently presented an interesting situation. In January, a delegation of Berlin religious leaders approached the Berlin Brothersvalley school board. The issue was a peewee wrestling tournament. The school board originally approved the school facility use for a Saturday morning. However, another tournament scheduled that same day necessitated a change. The wrestling boosters wished to move their tournament to Sunday. The religious leaders opposed this move. The clergy sought a school policy banning any activities before noon on Sundays. The school board was served a superb dilemma.

News accounts indicated the meeting was cordial. The discussion was handled in an appropriate manner. Each side was given ample time to present its case. Rancor and mean-spirited rhetoric was missing. Perhaps Congress can learn something from our Berlin neighbors.

A  new policy was drafted and voted upon at the next meeting. But, that new policy contained sticky issues. This proposal also prevented school property use in emergencies like natural disasters.

This line appeared in the policy. “No Sunday use shall be permitted before 12 p.m. Set up may occur one half hour prior to the event.” That line eliminated using school property or any facility before Sunday noon.

Running or walking on the school track is prohibited. The tennis courts and soccer fields are out of bounds. Even playing on school playground equipment is forbidden. Various other troubling scenarios were mentioned.

The school board defeated this proposal in early March. However, the board decided to rework the Sunday policy and will reveal a new plan in July.

OK, is a Sunday policy needed? Berlin does have a facility-use policy that dates to 1997. And, there were only three Sunday requests since 1997.

Revising this nearly two decade old policy is wise. The Berlin Brothersvalley school board will discuss the merits of a Sunday policy. Separation of church and state issues also need to be examined.

What about road racing? Some road races start and finish on school properties. However, very few races occur on Sunday. Saturday morning races are a running tradition.

Saturday road races have little to do with keeping Sunday sacred. Sunday morning long runs are a tradition developed with the ’70s running boom. Why race Sunday morning when one can run long, enjoying nature? Sunday mornings create a peaceful, easy feeling.


George Hancock of Scalp Level Borough is an occasional contributor to the editorial page.

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